“Thank you, Special Olympics, for helping me over the past 29 years, and I hope for many more years to come.”

This week we hear someone that has been involved in Special Olympics for nearly 30 years, Christine Cherne! 

How and when did you become involved with SOWI? 

I joined North Suburban Special Olympics in January 1990 at the age of 17. I was attending Nicolet High School and having a very difficult time socializing with people or participating in any activities. My teacher gave my family the name and telephone number of the North Suburban managers, Sue Neupert and Kevin Szydel. We called Sue Neupert and she told us it was too late to join basketball, however, swimming would start up in February. I started with swimming and the rest is history. I just kept trying my best, competing, and continuing in every sport North Suburban and SOWI offered. The past 29 years have been the happiest and greatest years in my life.   

What sport(s) do you participate in and what is your favorite sport? 

I currently compete in snowshoe racing, basketball, aquatics, softball and volleyball. I also participate in bowling. Since joining Special Olympics, I have also competed in tennis, athletics, downhill skiing, soccer and sailing. 

I loved learning and participating in all the sports I have tried. Aquatics and basketball are my two favorites. 

What do you like the most about being involved with SOWI? 

  • I have learned to socialize and not be as shy as I used to be 
  • Being taught how to play many different sports 
  • Giving me the opportunity to try so many new things 
  • Traveling away from my hometown and family and staying at big name colleges and universities throughout the United States and Ireland 
  • Meeting many celebrities involved in different professional areas 
  • Building up my self-confidence, so I can now help other people with some of their problems and teach them new things 
  • Everyone helps me feel successful, important, and does not make fun of me 

Tell us about one of your favorite memories with SOWI. 

One of my favorite memories was when I did snowshoe racing in the 2001 Alaska Winter Games. Much to my surprise, while up on the podium, not only did I receive a gold medal for the 1600m race on my 28th Birthday, but all the coaches, athletes, and spectators there sang Happy Birthday to me. It brought tears, yet so much joy, hearing the song sung in so many different languages. People from all over the world congratulated me. That entire trip is something I will never forget, nor the two gold medals I received in my individual events and a third gold medal I received with the help of my Team Wisconsin Relay Members.  

How would your life be different if you never joined SOWI? 

Before joining SOWI and North Suburban in 1990, I was a 17-year-old immature girl who cried all the time, never knowing why or able to explain why to anyone. I was always afraid and shy of everything and everyone, had no friends except for my family and neighbors, and had absolutely no interest or knowledge of any sport. Back then you were not allowed to participate in school sports and activities like nowadays. 

If I never joined SOWI, I would never have had the opportunity to learn and participate in soccer, learn to sail a 24-foot sailboat in Lake Michigan, competed in snowshoe racing, downhill skiing, basketball (female and coed), aquatics, softball (female and coed), tennis (singles and doubles), volleyball, bowling, track (pentathlon), and be an athlete on the Team WI Unified Volleyball team, which is fortunate to travel each year and compete in the USA Open Volleyball Team. 

Why do you think other people should get involved with SOWI? 

SOWI is a wonderful organization that helps individuals improve their daily living skills. As a result, athletes improve their self-esteem. Families and friends see a change in the growth in us, not only physically but also socially and in our educational levels. You also have the opportunity to learn how to play, understand and compete in many sports, while having fun and meeting many new life-long friends. With so many events being held away from your hometown, you also get to stay and travel to different locations and learn to eat many different types of food.  

Anything else you would like to share? 

Thank you, Special Olympics, for helping me over the past 29 years, and I hope for many more years to come. I am truly grateful and so is my family for all of your help and support in helping me to become the special young lady I am.