You can find multiple running races every weekend in Chicago. So what makes you run some but not others?
Many of us get up early on weekends and head to a running race in the summer. What some people never get a chance to learn about is the charity each race supports. Just about every race has a beneficiary. And the Big Ten Network’s Big 10K supports Special Olympics Chicago.
The race is this Saturday (July 26). There’s about 150 volunteers at this Saturday, and the race starts and finishes at Soldier Field, the birthplace of the first Special Olympic games in 1968. Runners sport purple (Northwestern), red (University of Wisconsin) and other colors for each of the Big 10 schools. I had an opportunity to catch up with the Nelson family, who is very close to Special Olympics Chicago.
The Nelson family is very busy chasing after five children. Their second oldest child, Sean (14), is a Special Olympics athlete. “I have a cousin who has been participating in Special Olympics Chicago events for 30 years,” explained Shannon Nelson. “When Sean was born my aunt called me to offer some advice to find a park program. She said, ‘It will be a much needed respite for you.’”
She continued, “Special Olympics allows Sean to experience the same types of opportunities and successes his siblings and typically developing peers do. He loves going to school with his latest medals to show off, especially to the girls. It has provided him opportunities to demonstrate independence through trips downstate where he stays overnight away from us. Through Special Olympics, Sean is exposed to activities that he otherwise would not experience.”
Ms. Nelson juggles her other children’s activities as well. “My oldest is a recreational leader in the Special Recreation day camp at Norwood Park and a cross country runner,” she explained. “The other children are into flag football, tennis, golf and Irish Dancing.”
When they aren’t busy running to activities you’ll find them volunteering at some of the many races in Chicago that benefit Special Olympics. “We work with races on a variety of levels but always try to lend support where it’s needed most,” she said. “Usually along the course at an aid station or at the finish line.
“It’s really exciting to be back again for a second year at the BTN Big 10k,” added Susan Nicholl, with Special Olympics Chicago. “We have an amazing running team participated in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with members representing 15 different states. We have a great cheering station located on Michigan Avenue at just about the 25.5 mile mark and the whole neighborhood supports as we distribute cow bells and cheer sticks to build excitement at this spot.”
“Donations from races are very important to our mission to support the 22 sporting events that our 5,000 athletes participate in throughout the year,” affirmed Ms. Nicholl. “Runners recognize that our Special Olympics Chicago superstars are their fellow athletes. They can relate to the fact that our athletes set goals, train, compete, experience an occasional injury, and ultimately reach that goal and set a new one! Financial support helps cover a variety of expenses including transportation to our events, event equipment, lunches, supplies, awards, travel expenses to other events and so much more.”
If you are participating in the race this weekend, you’ll be blown away by the competition between the schools, slip n’ slides along the course and post race party…but don’t forget to give the volunteers a high five and thank them for coming out to cheer everyone on and know that your participation in a race is helping kids like Sean.