Coach Mary Fiegel spends countless hours training Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) athletes on the West Bend Special Olympics basketball team, but when practice is over, she continues to coach one of her athletes on the job. Fiegel works as an Activities Director at Kettle Moraine Gardens Assisted Living Facility in Kewaskum, where she leads a team of staff, including 49-year-old SOWI athlete Lori Stehli.
Stehli works alongside Fiegel as an Activities Aid, playing cards with the residents and organizing parties. From the way she easily converses with her coworkers and the residents, it is hard to believe she was not always comfortable in social situations.
“I was quiet before I started Special Olympics,” she said. “Now I can talk to anyone!”
Between basketball practice on Wednesday nights and working Tuesdays and Thursdays, Fiegel and Lori see each other three days a week. But their relationship on the job is different than on the playing field.
“She’s tougher as a boss,” said Stehli.
“I have to be stricter here,” Fiegel agreed, explaining that they do not talk about Special Olympics when they are on the clock. “I tend to goof around more at trainings, but in both environments, I expect a lot of her.”
According to Fiegel, the best way to have one of her staff members or athletes succeed is to push them to go the extra mile and believe in them.
“By everyone expecting that she could do this job, it helped build her confidence. If you set the expectations high, she will reach them. If you don’t do that, she won’t have a chance,” she said.
Out of the 60 person staff at the Kettle Moraine Gardens, Stehli is the only person with an intellectual disability, but that doesn’t mean her boss lowers the bar for her.
“We don’t coddle her,” said Fiegel. “Just because she’s a Special Olympics athlete doesn’t mean she is treated differently than any other employee here.”
“Special Olympics and my job have taught me about responsibilities and time management,” Stehli said.
In addition to her job at the Kettle Moraine Gardens, Stehli also works at Threshold Incorporated Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“I would be bored if I wasn’t working,” she said. “[The other staff] are like my family.”
Stehli isn’t alone. She is just one of more than 1,150 athletes who is currently employed.
You can help reveal the champion in athletes like Stehli. This tax season, do something Special. Make a contribution to SOWI by designating an amount in the “Donations” section of your state income tax form. For more information on how to donate, please visit www.specialolympicswisconsin.org/taxcheckoff/.