Telling Our Stories as Special Olympics Global Messengers


My friend Georgia Hunter, 28, of Oak Park, sits smiling in the front seat of her mom’s car. She is brown-haired and is wearing a crisp button-down shirt with the embroidered Special Olympics Illinois logo. I am sitting directly behind her, wearing the same button-down shirt, glasses, and a huge grin.

Georgia, her mom, Karen, and myself were stopped at a red light. Karen snapped a celebratory photo just as we embarked on our trip home from Normal, Illinois. We had just finished a recent Athlete Leadership meeting at the state headquarters for Special Olympics Illinois. Twenty-eight years ago, Georgia was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Her twin sister, Catherine, was not. Georgia works at Trader Joe’s and goes to college.

Two years ago, she earned two gold medals competing in aquatics at the 2014 USA Games for Special Olympics held in New Jersey. Georgia is truly an athlete leader in the Special Olympics movement.

This coming Saturday, November 5, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Forward Space in Chicago, Special Olympics Illinois will host an Advanced Global Messenger training class that will be beneficial for area athlete leaders. I, along with many of my friends, will be in attendance. As Global Messengers, we work to improve our skills to be more engaging public speakers.

Take my friend and previous “Special Voices” athlete leader Bree Bogucki, 18, of Cary, who shares the goal of taking our public speaking and our self-advocacy to the next level. Bree, diagnosed with PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum) and obsessive compulsive disorder, is currently a first year college student at Harper College in Palatine. Many people know Bree to be a very talented vocalist. This past week, Bree performed for over 400 people at the Inspire Greatness Gala for Special Olympics Illinois. Last year, Bree performed in front of thousands on the global stage and on ESPN at the Opening Ceremony of Special Olympics 2015 World Summer Games in Los Angeles. Two years ago, Bree had an opportunity to perform nationally at the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games in New Jersey.

Similar to Bree, I too have showcased my skills as a journalist. Many of you, our readers, know me as an award-winning columnist and the founder and host of specialchronicles.com. Earlier this year, I broadcasted live on location in our nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C. in front of a several hundred people. Last year, wearing press credentials, producing one of the only podcasts of the event, I broadcasted live at the Special Olympics 2015 World Summer Games in Los Angeles. About two years ago, I had an opportunity to give a talk at the Learning Disabilities Association International Conference held in Chicago.

In March 2014, Bree’s public speaking career began. Bree was among two dozen Global Messengers who completed a two-day introductory public speaking training on the north-side of Chicago. Bree tells her story of being diagnosed with autism and how her involvement in Special Olympics transforms her life every day.

“We don’t always look like we have a disability, and people think we are weird,” Bree wrote on her Facebook page. “I rock my head from side to side… This also calms me so I can block out the outside stimuli that is bombarding me.”

At this weekend’s Advanced Global Messenger training class, we will improve our skills for any speaking gig. We will discover how to increase our confidence and charisma. Most importantly, we will see how to dramatically increase our influence with everyone we talk to. As a group, we will work to enhance our “stories” for our presentations. As an award-winning columnist, I personally know that storytelling resonates with audiences in ways that delivering raw information can’t equal. Stories engage and excite. According to literature from Special Olympics Illinois, powerful stories not only persuade but also inspire.

Another of my friends who will be in attendance is previous “Special Voices” athlete leader Erin Compton of Clarendon Hills. About 10 years ago, Erin was diagnosed with Down syndrome. In June 2015, Erin participated in her first Special Olympics state Summer Games competition. It was on the Friday evening at the Opening Ceremonies that I first met Erin and reconnected with her mom, Diane, who was one of my former high school special education teachers.

“You were such an inspiration to me 10 years ago when Erin was born,” said Diane. “Even as a high school student, you taught me to never, never limit possibilities.”

And the possibilities for Erin truly are limitless. She was crowned one of the Illinois Miss Amazing Queens in 2015. And, a year ago, Erin and her mom, Diane, traveled to the state headquarters for Special Olympics Illinois to attend the Beginning Global Messenger Training and thereby begin her young public speaking career. Erin helps audiences learn to never, ever impose limits on those of us with special needs.

“As you can see, the barriers between Special Olympics athletes and yourself [those without disabilities] are being broken,” said Woodridge Police Officer Daniel McIntyre after one of my own Global Messenger speeches. “They’re not what they used to be when I was a child.”

There is no better advocate for those of us with special needs than self-advocates. Take, for example my friend Garrett Anderson, another friend with Down syndrome and Special Olympics Illinois Board Member.

“Who better to advocate for people with disabilities than those with disabilities,” said Garrett.

Join me and let’s change the game by inviting Special Olympics Global Messengers to speak at your events.

This column was originally printed on Nov. 2, 2016 in The Bugle Newspapers.

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