Special Olympics Volunteer in Flight for 50 Years
By Jacque Coe
July 3, 2018
In 1968 at the Oak Park YMCA, Christel Ilg, née Edmier, was part of a small group of volunteers working with swimmers with intellectual disabilities. The group, “Clipped Wings,” was made up of current and former United Airlines stewardesses who volunteered time and money to support research and programs for people with intellectual disabilities. Eunice Kennedy heard about the group and added Christel to the list of volunteers for the very first Special Olympics games.
Fifty years later, Christel is back at the pool and continuing to volunteer through Clipped Wings. “I’ve learned so much more from these athletes than anyone else in life,” she says. Through the years, Clipped Wings has left its mark on Special Olympics, organizing the family receptions for several World Games and raising millions to support the games.
Fifty years of memories of athletes are vivid and emotional for Christel. She recalls a German athlete in a wheelchair, competing in athletics in 1991, who’s chair got stuck on the field passing the grandstand. He struggled to get the chair moving, and his perseverance to eventually succeed became her inspiration. “What it took for him to get that wheelchair started; it also took the same for me many times in life,” she says with misty eyes. “I’ve never forgotten him, or how the crowd cheered.”
Her five decades of volunteering with Clipped Wings has paid off. “They have given more to me than I could ever give back,” she says of the athletes. “Their attitudes, acceptance of people, love, and smiles. I get a high from their happiness and joy.”