Get to know the three Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes heading to the Winter World Games this March
Hometown: Ashland, WI
Years Involved in Special Olympics: 2
2017 World Games event: Alpine Skiing
Employed: Hugo’s Pizza
Hobbies: ATV’s, Playing Games
Two years ago, Kyle Robinson was a quiet young man hesitant to engage in activities with others. Enter Katelynn Fulweber, an energetic Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) athlete, 2014 Special Olympics USA Games competitor and classmate of Kyle. Kyle and Katelynn become friends (later dating), and Katelynn introduces him to Special Olympics.
Kyle first trains and competes in basketball, then quickly moves to bowling, swimming and alpine skiing as the seasons progress. This year, Kyle plans to add powerlifting to his growing list of sports. Along with advancements in sports, comes advancements in Kyle. The once shy teenager with little confidence to try out for a team is now blossoming.
Michelle Fulweber, Kyle’s agency manager and coach, and mother of Katelynn, said, “I have seen the confidence grow within Kyle. He is now an active member of the local agency’s Athlete Input Council and while he is nervous to speak publically, Kyle is ready to address attendees at the World’s Largest Truck Convoy for Special Olympics Wisconsin on September 17.” Kyle now lives with the Fulweber family and Michelle can see his transformation first-hand.
In January 2015, Kyle competes in his first ever SOWI State Winter Games. His events are Alpine Intermediate Giant Slalom, Alpine Intermediate Slalom and Alpine Intermediate Super G. He medals in all of them – Silver, Bronze and Gold, respectively.
On the day Kyle is selected to represent Team USA at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, he is attending school. Michelle and girlfriend Katelynn, want to deliver the news in a special way. They bring a cake to Kyle’s class with the announcement written in frosting – ‘Kyle Robinson,
Alpine Skier, going to the 2017 World Games’. Kyle’s classmates cheer in support of their friend. Michelle recalls Kyle’s reaction, “He was very surprised, turning bright red! Kyle doesn’t say a whole lot, but he was beaming in that moment.”
Since that day, Kyle with Katelynn by his side (who hopes to go to the Special Olympics USA Games in 2018), train six days a week. He follows the training schedules provided by his World Games coach. “Some days he feels unmotivated, but I remind him why he’s doing it. That’s all he needs and he gets right back to training,” shares Michelle. “He is (motivated) by the feeling of receiving a medal or ribbon. It gives him the confidence that he can go out and do things he hasn’t done before.”
March 2017 will certainly be a special time for Kyle and the Fulweber family. But cause for celebration won’t end with the Special Olympics World Winter Games. On July 15, Kyle and Katelynn will marry.
Hometown: Neillsville, WI
Years Involved in Special Olympics: 18
2017 World Games event: Snowboarding
Employed: CNA, Respite Care Provider
Hobbies: Everything outdoors year round!
Daina’s story in her own words…
I’m always so excited to share my story and how Special Olympics (SO) has changed my life! Let me begin by saying that through my experiences in SO I have had the pleasure of meeting many outstanding SO athletes and have gotten to know their stories and what they have had to overcome or adjust to, to get where they are. So unbelievable, and deserving they are! My story is one you might not have heard before.
My parents told me immediately after my birth that any medical people I needed to see, knew something was wrong but couldn’t label it. Through the years (lots of testing and measuring me) they learned more about my issues. I have some physical problems and an intellectual disability. I have had some surgeries to try and correct some of my physical problems, and will have some more in the future. On the intellectual side, well, I’m slower.
Recently the medical field did give me a label having CFC (Cadio-Facio-Cutaneous Syndrome), but since I can’t pronounce that, its kind-of similar to Noonan Syndrome.
My school years are not good memories for me. I remember when I was very young, being invited to classmates birthday parties, and them coming to mine. But as I aged that all ended. I don’t remember much else of my childhood except for always trying to fit in and have a friend. I wasn’t accepted by any of the groups. I didn’t excel in any school sport, couldn’t hold a tune, and couldn’t run as fast. I also knew I was different than my classmates. Smaller and I had a very hard time in the regular classroom setting. I would always get pulled out to get extra help with my school work.
Special Olympics has changed my life so much and taught me that it’s ok to be different, which was very hard for me to gather. Between people calling me small, short and slower, being pushed around, – I even got my pants flushed down the toilet once. Classmates even used the R-word towards me on a daily basis. Let’s just say I had a horrible, horrible middle school.
Let’s get to some GOOD STUFF. My parents believe the more “firsts” I can experience and the more people I can meet, the better my life will be. So when I was 8 years old I met Mr. Dean Glaze, my first coach. Coach, friend and mentor, he realized that I had the potential of being a great athlete and how little and cute I was. If you ask him, I was always an angel. I joined SO with him teaching me ALL the way. I was his youngest athlete ever. I started on his x country team and of course was the smallest one in my division. I did that for a few years. But Mr. Glaze knew from my demeanor and attitude at practices that this was not the right fit for me. He’d watch me go up and down an itty-bity hill tons of times. He knew I wanted to go faster, and do something really cool. So, he began a SO downhill ski team. I think I was the only member at first. Then many joined.
Coming into my teenage years, like all teens, I wanted to do the COOLEST winter sport. And for me that was snowboarding! SO and my coach made that happen. And I Soared!!! I have never looked back. My goal in SO was to make it to the World Games. And my dream came true. In 2013 I competed in the SO World Winter Games in South Korea as an advanced female snowboarder. I was one of the top three women in the world. I came away with the greatest memories and experiences, plus a GOLD and TWO SILVER medals! In 2015 and 2016, I got to participate in the X-Games dual slalom. It was an incredibly amazing experience. I was paired with my idol Hannah Teter and we took 2nd (2015) and 3rd (2016 – Note: Daina was the fastest SO athlete in the competition). And if you ask me it’s because we are both small and didn’t want to show off too bad.(Daina will attend the X Games in 2017 as well.)
In 2015, SO gave me the opportunity to go to LA for the 2015 SO summer world games. That was sooooo impressive to watch. And to meet all the famous gracious people that I did, including meeting and speaking with Tim Shriver himself during a DOHA FORUM and Genuine Summit that I had the honor to speak at.
SO has taught me it’s awesome to be different! I finally understand what that means. Do you know what a great feeling it is to have people from my hometown and nearby cities tell me they know who I am and how proud they are of me? They tell me they’ve been following my stories through SO. I was shocked to be told, I was someone’s role model! I have even been asked for my autograph!!!
In actually growing up through SO, I have also found I have a gift and passion, and that is to be helping and working with others with special needs. I work for WEAP (WI Early Autism Project) and have subbed in the high school LD classroom, and work with another home respite employer with clients with special needs. I have received feedback from their parents that they are well pleased with my work. And even more important to me, is that GREAT feeling I get from my clients.
Lastly, what I want to tell you is, that I am happy with who I am and who I have become. I do realize there is much more that I can do. With the love of my parents, and very importantly the wonderful, encouraging, supportive people and events I have been honored to participate in through SO – – I DO HAVE FRIENDS!!! In many ways I’m the same as you by being included. That’s all I want, is to be included, and that’s what SO has done for me!
Heidi Van Abel
Hometown: Manitowoc, WI
Years Involved in Special Olympics: 20
2017 World Games event: Cross Country Skiing
Employed: Colonial Pet Shop
Hobbies: Biking, Flag Football and winter activities
Heidi was first introduced to Special Olympics by a friend. At the time she was attending Lincoln High School in Manitowoc and competing on the track team. Heidi started out in track and snowshoeing but says “snowshoes were hard to put on”. So she tried her hand at cross-country skiing and has been training and competing for quite a few years.
Heidi went on to compete in cross country skiing at Special Olympics Wisconsin’s (SOWI) Winter State Games. “My first time didn’t’ go so good. I was getting used to skiing. Each time I got better and better.” In 2015, her hard work paid off. Heidi medaled in each of her events: 1K Freestyle (Gold), 4×500 Relay Freestyle (Gold) and 500M Freestyle (Silver); qualifying her for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
Heidi’s agency manager, Kristin Zolltheis, was first to receive the news. She called Heidi immediately. “Kris (Kristin) told me over the phone. I was shocked and didn’t believe her at first.” Moments after ending the call, Heidi called Kristin back, “Are you pulling my leg?” For Heidi, reality hit when “I got my passport and my picture in the paper!” (See Manitowoc’s Herald Times Reporter for story.) “Heidi is extremely deserving of this opportunity. She is a great athlete, very positive and always appreciative of what others do for her. We are all so excited for Heidi,” said Kristin.
In preparation for the World Games, Heidi went to her doctor to complete the mandatory sports physical. Kristin recalls talking to Heidi after the appointment, “There is something in my stomach and it needs to be checked out.” A follow-up visit revealed a six-and-a-half pound tumor in Heidi’s uterus. Zolltheis recounts Heidi’s fear, “How am I going to go to the World Games with this in me?” The tumor was biopsied and Heidi underwent surgery for a total hysterectomy – at the age of 34. A week later, the pathology report confirmed the tumor was benign.
Nearly 11 weeks post-surgery, Heidi received the news she had been waiting for….she was cleared by her doctor to begin training for the 2017 World Winter Games.
Heidi didn’t waste a second. On Wednesday, September 14, she joined her health group (a facet of her local agency program, made possible through a Healthy Athletes grant) on a 12-mile bike ride. As the weather cools, the group will transition to a weekly yoga/walking session in effort to keep athletes active outside of their sports training schedules.
Heidi also joined the YMCA – with the help of Kristin – as well as SOWI volleyball. “Last night was our first practice and I nearly hit the ceiling tiles with my serve!” said Heidi excitedly. Kristin also has Heidi recording her activity in a log. “I gave Heidi an activity tracker to record what she is doing – walking, biking, etc. When I checked on her progress, I noticed the log she was using – a Special Olympics notebook she bought herself,” shares Kristin. “She is a dedicated athlete – having never missed a practice.”
“Thank goodness Heidi was selected to go to the World Games, and then had the sports physical. Since Heidi lives in an apartment on her own, we would have never known of the tumor otherwise”, said Kristin. “Everything is coming together for Heidi.”
When asked her thoughts on going to the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games, Heidi simply says,
“It’s the highest honor.”