BY: USA GAMES CORRESPONDENT, MIKE GASTINEAU
Amanda Geno remembers her first experience with Special Olympics. At the time, she wasn’t very happy about it.
Geno was a freshman at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri. She was a member of the cross country team and was less than thrilled when she was told by the coach he wanted the entire team to participate in a Special Olympics competition.
“He told us we were volunteering, but he also told us it was mandatory,” she said. “I had no idea what we’d be doing. I just knew we had to get out of bed on a Saturday morning and be somewhere by 7 a. m.”
The event was a motorized wheelchair race on a slalom course. Upon her arrival, it didn’t take long for Geno to change her attitude.
“We got there, and the athletes were just having a blast. There was one kid who just flying around us on his chair and making us laugh. I realized right away this was going to be awesome.”
Geno went from reluctantly answering the alarm clock in the early hours of Saturday morning to someone who has been committed to Special Olympics now for 15 years. She is a law enforcement officer with the Lee’s Summit Missouri Police Department (just outside Kansas City) and plays a big role in the yearly Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics Missouri.
Each year, Special Olympics Missouri presents an award called the Michael Letz Award to someone directly responsible for the success of the LETR. In 2016, Geno became the youngest police officer ever to win the award. In eight years of participation, she has overseen fundraising efforts within the Lee’s Summit PD that have resulted in over $650,000 raised for Special Olympics.
The fundraising would be enough, but Geno has also made a more personal contribution that speaks to the point of the #ImAGameChanger campaign. Several years ago she met a young woman named Brittany Selken.
“I was paired up with Brittany as a unified partner, first through floor hockey, then we played softball and bowled. She’s really athletic. We just clicked and eventually, we became friends. We text each other all the time. I’m really close with her family and she knows everyone in my family.”
Their friendship deepened after Selken’s mom passed away. “She didn’t have a female in her life after that,” Geno said. “So I tried to become a role model for her.”
Geno and Selken now travel together to various locations to give speeches together on behalf of Special Olympics Missouri. They also volunteer together for Special Olympics events. “We’re really good buds,” said Geno. “She learns from me, I learn from her, and we make it work.”
Speaking of work, the amount Geno does for Special Olympics is staggering. In addition to coordinating her police departments fundraising for the Law Enforcement Torch Run, she is the Chair for the Kansas City Metro Polar Plunge which raises approximately $300,000 each year. She plans several sports events and participates in various sports as a Unified partner and coach. Geno says she’s proud to be recognized as a game changer, but believes the whole concept may be backward.
“I’ve learned more from the athletes I’ve worked with than I could ever teach them. They’ve taught me how to enjoy life, how to be a better person, and how to be a great teammate. Special Olympics has been a Game Changer for me and I can't imagine my life without it.”