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updated: 6/12/2014 1:19 PM

Suburban Special Olympians going for gold at USA Games

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  • Brian Hill/bhill@dailyherald.comFour members of Team Illinois in the upcoming Special Olympics in New Jersey all attend Hoffman Estates High School. They are Vanessa Sandoval, 18 years old, from left, Matthew Sommerer, 17 years old, Nicholas Joseph,  20 years old, and Carina Valencia, 19 years old.

      Brian Hill/bhill@dailyherald.comFour members of Team Illinois in the upcoming Special Olympics in New Jersey all attend Hoffman Estates High School. They are Vanessa Sandoval, 18 years old, from left, Matthew Sommerer, 17 years old, Nicholas Joseph, 20 years old, and Carina Valencia, 19 years old.

  • Dozens of Special Olympians from Illinois, several of them from the suburbs, are heading to New Jersey this week in hopes of adding to their medal counts at the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games. About 3,500 athletes from across the country will compete in the national games, held just once every four years.

       Dozens of Special Olympians from Illinois, several of them from the suburbs, are heading to New Jersey this week in hopes of adding to their medal counts at the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games. About 3,500 athletes from across the country will compete in the national games, held just once every four years.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Team Illinois' unified soccer squad -- along with dozens of other athletes, coaches and supporters from the state -- are off to New Jersey to compete for gold in the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games.

      Team Illinois' unified soccer squad -- along with dozens of other athletes, coaches and supporters from the state -- are off to New Jersey to compete for gold in the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games.
    Photo Courtesy of Special Olympics Illinois

 
Daily Herald report

You won't see them interviewed by Bob Costas live from an NBC studio, catch highlights of their exploits on ESPN, or even find their results on your favorite sports sites online.

But for thousands of athletes from across the country -- some of them from the suburbs -- years of training, dedication and effort will culminate starting this weekend when the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games open in New Jersey.

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The weeklong event is the Special Olympics' largest national games undertaking ever in the United States, featuring about 3,500 athletes taking part in 16 different sports competitions. The athletes will be joined by an estimated 1,000 coaches, 10,000 volunteers and 70,000 spectators, according to the Special Olympics.

About 75 of those athletes and coaches will represent Team Illinois. They include a teenage gymnast from Palatine who's spent a decade honing her craft; a record-setting sprinter from Crystal Lake who returned to the sport just in time to qualify for his first national games; a pair of Hoffman Estates High School students who found a passion for helping others by playing soccer alongside disabled peers; and an accomplished swimmer whose drive to compete is obvious despite his inability to speak.

Here are their stories:

Janna Blowers

Janna Blowers' passion for gymnastics started at the age of 5. After competing in Special Olympics for 11 years, the 19-year-old will be representing Illinois at the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games in New Jersey next week. "She is very excited," said mother Betsy Blowers of Campton Hills. "This is going to be her one and only (time). In Illinois, you only get one (chance at nationals)." Read the story.

Jason Coy

Jason Coy isn't boastful, but the Wildwood man has a room full of medals and trophies for his athletic exploits. He's out to earn more as a member of Illinois' volleyball team at the upcoming Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. "He's kind of a coach on the court," said his coach, Amber Bodame. Read the story.

Karlee Darow

When asked what she hopes to accomplish this weekend at the highest level competition in her 10-year athletic career, gymnast Karlee Darow of Palatine does not hesitate. "I want to try to do my best and make sure everyone does a great job too," Karlee says. Read the story.

Alex Dmytrenko

Gurnee resident Alex Dmytrenko doesn't speak, but no words are necessary to understand his passion for swimming. That passion will take him to New Jersey this week, where he'll swim for Team Illinois in the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games. Read the story.

Peter Hill

Peter Hill has been competing in the Special Olympics since he was a young child living in Virginia. But last year, the 34-year-old Lincolnshire resident switched from softball to track and field. The move paid off, as Peter earned a spot representing Illinois in the upcoming Special Olympics 2014 USA Games, kicking off Saturday in New Jersey. Read the story.

Nick Joseph

Nick Joseph plays seven sports, but soccer is the one the 20-year-old from Schaumburg calls "very addicting." He's heading to New Jersey this week to play for Team Illinois' soccer squad in the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games. Read the story.

Brent Kampert

After a three-year hiatus from Special Olympics, Brent Kampert's comeback in the sport he loves -- running -- was "like lightning." Kampert, 28, of Crystal Lake earned a spot in this month's Special Olympics 2014 USA Games with a record-setting performance in the 2013 Illinois Summer Games, running 100 meters in 11 seconds. Read the story.

Juan Laverde

Juan Laverde never gave much thought to the athletic aspirations of youngsters with intellectual disabilities. Then he got involved in some eye-opening programs at Neuqua Valley High School and in Special Olympics and discovered just how much some of those athletes have to offer. Read the story.

Jeff Osowski

Jeff Osowski says he was "shocked" when he learned he had been selected for the golf team competing in next week's Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. But those who know the Downers Grove man say he shouldn't be surprised because Jeff is not only a fine golfer, but an even better teammate. Read the story.

Vanessa Sandoval

Vanessa Sandoval was a freshman at Hoffman Estates High School when she became intrigued by the idea of giving back to the community. Vanessa soon discovered participating in the Special Olympics was her ticket to give back to those who needed it most. Read the story.

Matthew Sommerer

Like most Olympians, 17-year-old Matthew Sommerer of Hoffman Estates has spent near a lifetime preparing to compete at the highest levels. In his case, that will be playing soccer for Team Illinois in the upcoming Special Olympics 2014 USA Games games in New Jersey. "I started to play when I was 8 years old," the Hoffman Estates High School junior says. Read the story.

Carina Valencia

Hoffman Estates High School grad Carina Valencia started pitching in with after-school activities for special-needs students. That quickly grew into a presence on the Special Olympics soccer team, and now, on Team Illinois in the national games. "It's a life-changing experience for me," she said. Read the story.

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