Featured Coach: Mary Fiegel

November 6, 2013

Mary Fiegel, a veteran Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) coach, grew up on a farm on a dead-end road named after her family. She graduated from Markesan High School in 1972, a time when sports opportunities for girls were limited. 

“I was the Phys. Ed student who would make my gym teacher roll over in her grave [if she could see me now]. I was always the heavy weight kid who did not excel in most sports,” she explained. 

Though Fiegel wasn’t bringing home any gold medals, she was learning another skill.  

“ [It was] in those Phys. Ed classes that I learned teaching skills because I helped others, kept scores, folded towels and learned a lot of patience,” she said.

 Fiegel gleaned knowledge about teaching from watching her mother work with special education students in the Waupun School District. Fiegel witnessed the beginning of the Special Olympics worldwide movement when she attended the 1st International Special Olympics Summer Games at Soldier Field in Chicago, a moment that will be eternally etched into her memories. 


“From the time that I was 9-years-old, persons with [ID] were a part of my family,” she said. “I knew when I was in 8th grade that someday I wanted to work with special education students or with senior citizens.”

After she graduated from high school, she began working with the elderly as an Occupational Therapy Assistant at Cedar Lake Home in West Bend. At her boss’s suggestion, she started teaching a dance class for individuals with ID at the local recreation department and chaperoning Special Olympics events. As she says, “the rest is history”.

Fast-forward 30 years, Fiegel is a State Certified Clinician qualified to coach 15 sports, a member of the SOWI Indoor Sports Management team and the Clinician Training Team. She has coached softball at the 1995 and 1999 Special Olympics World Games, coached gymnastics at the 2006 and 2010 Special Olympics USA Games and will lead the team again at the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey. 

There is one reason why she has continued to spend countless night and weekend hours volunteering. 

“The athletes keep you coming back year after year,” she explained. “Recently someone said to me, ‘Don't you want your own life?’ Special Olympics is a great part of my life. I hope that I can be involved until I am no longer on this earth.”

She kept volunteering with the athletes even while returning to college at UW-Oshkosh and fighting (and winning) her battle with ovarian cancer.  In 2002, SOWI recognized Fiegel with the Roger Kasper Award for all her dedication to the athletes.

“I wore my wig proudly as I received the award. That experience has shown me how to help others who are going through chemo and cancer,” she said.

According to Fiegel, her life experiences have only fueled her dedication to transforming lives through the joy and power of sport. 

“I learned from being on the other end of the athletic experience in high school what not to do in regard to being on a team and competing,” she said. “It is what made me a strong person today with empathy and encouragement for the athletes that I serve.”

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