Cold, rain no match for Special Olympians' spirit in Lake Zurich
Inclement weather forced the cancellation of field events at this year's Special Olympics Illinois Northeastern/Area 13 Spring Games, but despite the unrelenting drizzle, cold and wind, the cauldron still burned during opening ceremonies in Lake Zurich, and track events proceeded as if it were 70 degrees and sunny.
It was the sixth year that Mel Eide Field at Lake Zurich High School hosted the event, which drew just under 500 athletes to compete.
Brenden Cannon, area director for Area 13, said safety concerns dictated the cancellation of events such as the shot put, the long jump and the softball throw.
"Safety is our first and foremost concern, for not only just the athletes, but also for our volunteers and coaches and parents," he said.
Opening ceremonies began about 9 a.m. and included an opening address by Brent Kampert of Crystal Lake, who celebrated his 30th birthday by taking part in the 100-meter run.
Despite doctors' predictions when he was young that Kampert might never walk or talk, his athletic accomplishments include winning a silver medal in the 100 meters at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey.
"Special Olympics allows me to be myself and be accepted for who I am," he said during his address. "A big heart can make a big difference."
An ensuing parade of athletes around the high school track culminated with Anna Jensen from Richmond Burton High School triumphantly hoisting the torch, sprinting around the track and lighting the awaiting cauldron.
Athletes competing Sunday included 28-year-old Erin Liesz, whose mother, Lisa Liesz, is assistant coordinator of Special Olympics at Schaumburg Township Elementary School District 54.
Erin, who has Angelman Syndrome, a disorder that has rendered her nonverbal, was entered in the 25-meter developmental walk.
"It's very important to me. It's in my heart. I have always been involved in some capacity with her and without her," Lisa Liesz said of Special Olympics. "(Erin is) very social. Just to be out here with everybody, she loves it."
Sunday's event was important to the Lake Zurich community, as well.
Village Trustee Jim Beaudoin thanked the local Lions Club, St. Francis Parish, the local Rotary Club, students and faculty from Lake Zurich High, and the police and fire departments for helping to pull off the event. He also noted the 33 athletes from Lake Zurich competing.
"This is a part of our culture in Lake Zurich," he said. "We give back. This truly exemplifies the spirit of 'Heart of Our Community.'"