As SOWI athletes around the state prepare to sit down with family and friends to stuff themselves silly and give thanks this week, many athletes might be thinking about what the Special Olympics movement means to them during this time of reflection and appreciation.
This might be especially relevant this year, as it’s the final holiday season before the global movement celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018. As we head into this special year during which we’ll commemorate the Inclusion Revolution started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver that has touched the lives of millions of people across the world, some SOWI athletes have shared what they’re thankful for in Special Olympics.
“In Special Olympics, I’m grateful the organization has given me opportunities to learn, learn about other cultures, and grow as a person. Special Olympics has made athletes feel accepted and part of something bigger.” – SOWI athlete Jerry Halboth
Jerry Halboth of the Walworth County Adult Program has been a SOWI athlete for more than 20 years. This Thanksgiving he is thankful for the cultural and personal enrichment that comes with SOWI. “In Special Olympics, I’m grateful the organization has given me opportunities to learn, learn about other cultures, and grow as a person,” Halboth said. “Special Olympics has made athletes feel accepted and part of something bigger.” Halboth has also gotten to do some pretty amazing things as an athlete with SOWI. In 2014 he competed in the USA Games in New Jersey where he earned a bronze medal in athletics.
Another veteran of SOWI who has lots to be thankful for is Kimberly Raatz of North Suburban Special Olympics. She’s been a SOWI athlete since 1994 and she found out in September that she’d be representing Team Wisconsin in swimming at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle. As amazing as the experience will surely be for her, it will have tough competition for her best Special Olympics memory. In 1999, Raatz participated in the World Games in North Carolina, which she naturally considers her favorite SOWI memory. “It was awesome to know I was going and that my parents would come see it… Meeting athletes from different countries in the village where we traded pins was fun. We received a bronze medal and that was really awesome,” Raatz said.
In addition to looking forward to creating another memory of a lifetime next year at the USA Games, Raatz is thankful for her new home, her loving family and her good friends, old and new alike, at North Suburban Special Olympics. She began competing at the agency early this year when she and her family moved after living in West Bend for 23 years.
Although he hasn’t been a SOWI athlete for nearly as long, Zachary Reetz of Waushara County Special Olympics has much to be grateful for as well. He began as an athlete in 2012 and one of his favorite memories happened just this year when he was selected to light the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony of the State Summer Games.
“It means a lot to me being included. Thanks Special Olympics Wisconsin. I didn’t know I have so many opportunities.” – SOWI athlete Zachary Reetz
This has been a big year for Reetz. He is also thankful to have gotten very involved this year in exciting leadership roles within SOWI. As of 2017, he became an athlete intern, Global Messenger and health leader with SOWI. He is also an assistant basketball skills coach for his agency. “I didn’t know I would be involved with Special Olympics so much. It means a lot to me being included. Thanks Special Olympics Wisconsin. I didn’t know I have so many opportunities,” Reetz said.
A new athlete who is already very excited for the opportunities on the horizon in Special Olympics is Joseph Kendrick of Waupaca Area Special Olympics. Even as a new athlete, Kendrick says he has lots to be grateful for. “Even though I’ve been in for barely half a year, I’ve made more true friends and played in more competition than all of middle school and high school combined,” Kendrick said.
He’s had a great time this year getting involved in lots of Unified action like the 100-meter Unified relay at the State Summer Games, the Unified flag football tournament, and the Brian Butch Unified basketball camp, where he learned from Wisconsin basketball royalty. He even achieved a dream of getting on TV when he was interviewed by a local TV station during the State Summer Games.
All in all, 2017 has been great for many SOWI athletes who have lots to be thankful for as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this movement that is unlike anything in the world. It has brought joy, friendship, health and empowerment to so many millions of people this last half century. Jerry Halboth, Kimberly Raatz, Zachary Reetz and Joseph Kendrick have told you a bit about what they’re thankful for with Special Olympics. What are you thankful for this year?