December 4, 2009

Lincoln 2010 - Update

Time to focus on the positive, 2009 is almost behind us and I glad. I am only going to look forward now. And gosh darn it – so is Alex!

We recently got a request from Special Olympics Colorado for some pictures of Alex participating in her sport. These pictures of the athletes will be used as material for soliciting support for our Colorado athletes. How can anyone say no to a picture of my sweet daughter?

This is getting me very excited...To that end, and to make sure I stay on pins and needles for the next seven months, I scour the web looking for updates of the games. I found this the other day.

It is attributed to HILARY KINDSCHUH / Lincoln Journal Star

Special Olympics staff prepares for 2010 games

When Chuck Cooper got the call in 2007 telling him Nebraska would host the 2010 Special Olympics National Games, his wife told him he looked worried.

"I told her, 'I don't know why I'm worried. I have no staff, no money and no office,'" said Cooper, president and CEO of Special Olympics Nebraska.

"There are not very many times in your career (where) you actually get to start something at zero."

But Cooper has seen progress in the 2 1/2 years since that call.

Today, 12 people are working full time and two part time staff members on the 2010 USA National Games.

Some are out-of-state transplants who moved to Lincoln to help.

Before he got here about a month ago, Brett Broek worked for the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho.

"It's the most rewarding job experience I can imagine," said Broek, director of participant services. "Literally every event brings awareness. Everything you do is toward that goal and it just pays off big time."

It's the athletes that draw people like Jesus Cabrera, director of operations services.

"They deserve quality competitions," said Cabrera, who spent two years living in Boise and working for the world games before moving to Lincoln in June.

"I'm grateful I'm able to help them demonstrate their skills and abilities on the playing field."

Some staff members say they were motivated to get involved with Special Olympics by having a friend or family member with a disability.

Molly Orr, director of sports operations, said she had a friend who developed a brain tumor when she was little. The tumor left the girl with physical disabilities and developmental delays.

Watching her try to prove that she could still do things, that she was still able, motivated me to help other people that have disabilities," Orr said.

Sarah Leeth, vice president of marketing and communications, has a cousin in Minnesota who is a champion Special Olympics bowler.

"I became involved through her -- that's really where it became a place in my heart," said Leeth, who came to Lincoln in August 2008.

Some staffers have been involved with the organization for years.

Like Steve Bennett, chief operating officer and vice president of operations, who has been active at the local, state and national levels for 14 years.

The former junior high math and special education teacher volunteered as early as 1988. Before moving here in April, he worked for the world games in Boise.

Once I got involved with it, it's been a passion of mine," Bennett said.

The staff also includes some Nebraska natives.

Logistics Manager Jerry Thraen is a retired Lincoln police sergeant who helped found Special Olympics Nebraska's annual Polar Bear Plunge.

Elkhorn native Laura Karthauser, director of community relations, volunteered with her family at Special Olympics events while she was growing up.

"As a volunteer, I thought of the impact Special Olympics has on athletes and the opportunities it gives them for competition and to gain self confidence and feel proud of what they do and are a part of," said Karthauser, who joined the staff in August.

I was impacted as much as the athletes to get to be a part of such a special event."

Omaha native Josie Cooper, director of brand management and special projects, also got involved through family and friends.

"It's teamwork over the awards and over self glory," said Cooper, who joined the staff full time in March. "Teamwork is the thing that makes the Special Olympics what it is."

Deb Stroh, director of volunteer services, is a Waverly native who has been traveling with her military husband the past 20 years.

Most recently they were in Chicago, where Stroh worked with autistic students. They returned to Nebraska so she could work for the 2010 games.

"Lincoln and Nebraska are the perfect place for the national games ... when you think of the hard work ethic, spirit of volunteerism and the support we have received so far," she said.

As the 2010 Special Olympics National Games Thanksgiving office party wrapped up last week, president and CEO Cooper said he recently found his first "to do" list as he was going through his desk.

"A1 on my 'to do' list was 'get some help,'" he said.

He can cross that off now.

When I read articles about passionate and caring people, I know all is well in the world. These folks are spending a least a year of their time preparing for 3,000 athletes to realize their dreams. I believe these dedicated staff members are also realizing their dreams. Seems like a win-win to me.

This is the magic of children and adults with special needs. It brings out the best in all of us.

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