#ImAGameChanger - Will Larsen

BY: USA GAMES CORRESPONDENT, MIKE GASTINEAU

Will Larsen’s senior year of high school had just been turned sideways.

The Orono, Minnesota resident had been playing hockey on a Saturday morning when his skate gave out and he slid into the dasher board, breaking his leg in two places in the process.

There’s no doubt that he had plenty on his mind as he was loaded into an ambulance for a trip to the hospital where he would undergo surgery on his leg later that day. But at the top of his suddenly updated to-do list was making sure someone got ahold of Sam Geffre.

Sam is a 10th grader at Orono High School and he and Larsen had become friends through the school’s Unified sports program. Geffre had been quite reluctant to get involved in the program at first, but with Larsen’s encouragement, he gradually got interested. He began playing on the school’s flag football team and he and Will were partners on the school’s Unified bowling team. Larsen also encouraged Sam to get involved in other activities and one of those was committing to attending the homecoming dance. Sam agreed and Will planned on giving him a ride to the dance.

The dance was scheduled for the evening of the day when Will broke his leg. On his way to the hospital after his accident, he called the advisor for the Unified program and informed him that someone else was going to have to pick up Sam and make sure he had a good time at the dance.

“Who does that?” asks Leslie O’Meara, a teacher at Orono High School who nominated Larsen for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games #ImAGameChanger campaign.

#ImAGameChanger - Macho Madness

BY: USA GAMES CORRESPONDENT, MIKE GASTINEAU

Imagine you belong to a group of a couple dozen people who work out together at a gym at a pre-dawn early morning hour before you go to work. For the parents in the group, it has become a small slice of the day where they can focus on themselves and not their kids.

Over time, your group becomes close-knit. They’ve nicknamed themselves “Macho Madness” and in addition to helping everyone physically, the sessions build camaraderie.

Then, one day, one of your fellow early bird workout fiends surprises everyone when he brings his 10-year-old daughter to the gym. How would you react?

Dr. Ross McDaniel is a chiropractor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. His daughter Kaylor has Smith Magenis Syndrome (SMS) which is a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body. Among the symptoms Kaylor has is a reverse melatonin cycle. This means she’s tired in the afternoon and wide awake in the middle of the night. This can make the simple act of doing things with her a little problematic.

“As with many of these kids, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to be active and there isn’t a lot of emphasis put on it,” said Dr. McDaniel. “Obesity can also be a problem for people with Kaylor’s genetic condition. They tend to gain more weight even with the exact same diet as kids who don’t have SMS.”

McDaniel realized that physical fitness and health and wellness needed to be an important part of Kaylor’s life. He also wanted to give her something to do when she was awake at a time that most kids are sleeping. So one day he invited her to come with him to the gym and meet his Macho Madness group. He admits he did so with a little trepidation.

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#ImAGameChanger - Jessica Minard

BY: USA GAMES CORRESPONDENT, MIKE GASTINEAU

David Fine’s son Kenny was diagnosed with autism before his second birthday. Among the many thoughts and emotions Fine had to sort through after the diagnosis was how to explain the situation to Kenny’s cousins.

A few days later he was talking to his niece Jessie about Kenny when she interjected a point.

“Mom told me he needs help to learn how to play,” then six-year-old Jessie said to her uncle. Kenny was non-verbal so the act of showing him how to play was not necessarily going to be easy. Jessie was undaunted.

“I want to help him,” she said. “I want to show him how to play.”

And on the simple premise of helping Kenny learn how to play, a lifelong love for her cousin (as well as a passion for helping people with intellectual disabilities) started for Jessica Lynn Minard. She’s now 27 and she was nominated by Fine to be recognized by the 2018 USA Games #ImAGameChanger campaign.

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#ImAGameChanger - Audrey Verret

BY: USA GAMES CORRESPONDENT, MIKE GASTINEAU

Ask anyone who works within Special Olympics and they’ll tell you that a key element to continued success within the organization is the work done by volunteers. Every day, in cities and towns throughout America, Special Olympics employees count on people who are willing to do the work required to keep things moving forward without asking for a paycheck.

“Our lifeblood is all of our volunteers,” said St. Louis metro area program director Jocelyn Diehl. “But when you get someone who is interested in helping at the next level, that’s going above and beyond.”

Diehl is speaking of Audrey Verret who she nominated for recognition by the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in our #ImAGameChanger campaign.

Verret first got involved with Special Olympics as a college student at Washington State University. After college, she lived in Los Angeles and worked as a volunteer there for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. She helped out with other Special Olympics activities in Southern California and when her career took her to a new job in St. Louis, she immediately began to look for ways to join Special Olympics Missouri.

“For someone to be so passionate about an organization that they actively seek you out after moving is inspiring,” Diehl said. She thinks there were pragmatic reasons for Verret to continue working with Special Olympics.

“She didn’t know anyone here and I think she thought this was a good way to connect with a similar community to what she had in Los Angeles.  She’s created friends and family through her relationships with people in Special Olympics. It’s benefitted her but it’s also benefitted us with all she’s done.”

What she’s done is remarkable.

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