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Special Olympians Staying Active During Pandemic

Rich Egger
William Reynolds at Digger's College City Bowl in Macomb

Floor hockey, swimming, and volleyball are among the 18 sports offered by the Special Olympics Illinois during normal times.  But these, of course, are not normal times due to COVID-19.

Even though much activity has been sidelined due to the pandemic, athletes are finding ways to keep active and engaged.


One of those athletes is William Reynolds of Macomb. He loves playing the drum kit set up in the living room of his home in Macomb. Drumming is not an Olympic sport but William said it does help him prepare for sports.

“It’s exercise and it helps me keep in shape. It’s good exercise and it makes me feel good too,” he said.

Credit Rich Egger
William Reynolds said his favorite drummer is Phil Ehart of the band Kansas.

Playing sports also makes him feel good. Basketball and softball are his favorites. William said he has always liked basketball, and he said he enjoys being the catcher in softball. “I get to throw the ball to the pitcher and that’s fun, and wearing the face guard shield when I’m behind home plate.”

William stands more than six feet tall and looks like he could slug a softball a country mile. William is excited about the Special Olympics. He said it’s about more than competition.

“To have things to do. To make friends. I’m in my happy place when I’m doing the Olympics a lot,” William said before acknowledging it is also at least a little bit about competition. “Try to win medals too.”

He has never been to the statewide Special Olympics. He hoped to do so this year, competing in his favorite sports and taking in festivities such as the opening ceremonies. But no festivities were held and no games took place this year due to the pandemic.

For now, all Special Olympics team sports remain suspended, which means athletes are missing out on opportunities –and not just in terms of competition.

“They have missed out on a lot of that socialization. And just like us, they need that to be able to stay healthy,” said Julie Eggleston, Program Coordinator for the McDonough County Special Recreation Association.

Credit Rich Egger
Julie Eggleston at the Macomb Park District's Glenwood Park Shelter House

She said not only are the games suspended, but it’s been a challenge just to hold practices. “We utilize high school gyms, and the high school gyms are restricting any outside organizations coming in to utilize their gym space because of COVID-19.”

Eggleston said the Special Olympics Illinois is doing what it can to keep athletes active. For example, virtual competitions are taking place. Athletes must train individually with coaches or family members and submit scoring to the Special Olympics office.

The organization also found a way for athletes to participate in the annual torch run that leads into the statewide games by holding a virtual torch run this year.

Credit Rich Egger
William Reynolds showing off the medal he received for participating in the virtual torch run.

William took part by riding his bicycle for two miles. “They put my picture with my bicycle on the Special Olympics website, and then they sent me a shirt and a medal for doing that.”

William enjoyed receiving the medal so much that he’s trying a new sport in hope of earning more Olympic glory. He has been trying out bowling as part of a social program through the Special Recreation Association.

He knows he must work on his technique. “I have to look at the arrows and make sure it goes straight down to get all the pins.”

William hopes to improve enough to compete in the Special Olympics in bowling as well as basketball, softball, and track and field. He hopes to one day hear the roar of the crowd while competing in the Special Olympics Illinois.

But during a year when so much of normal life has been upended, William Reynolds is thankful for what he does have: his family and friends, the occasional activities, and his first Special Olympics medal.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.