Chicago Special Olympics athlete Tommy Shimoda earns Order of Lincoln, Illinois' highest honor

CHICAGO (WLS) -- History was made in Illinois on Saturday.

Special Olympian Tommy Shimoda was celebrated as the first athlete with intellectual disabilities to receive the Order of Lincoln, the state's highest honor "for professional achievement and public service."

"We all play sports and work hard so we can go to competitions," said Shimoda.

The 29-year-old Chicagoan, who is non verbal, shared his message with the help of a device at the Chicago History Museum ceremony Saturday night.

"Now that I have the Lincoln Laureate Award I feel that you know I work very hard to be good at sports and to help my friends. Thank you Lincoln Academy. I will do my best job," Shimoda said.

Shimoda was diagnosed with Autism as a child and has been a Special Olympics athlete for more than 20 years. Along the way he has won the gold in speed skating at the 2017 Winter World Games in Austria. He's also an honorary ESPY recipient and a Chicagoland Sports hall of Fame Inductee.

"Absolutely clarifies and solidifies the idea that we're all special," said Illinois Supreme Court Justie Anne Burke.

"It's one day at a time and he always works hard and you like the challenge, right?" asked Shimoda's mother Barbara De Kerf.

De Kerf said her son is excited to be among leaders in medicine, the military, music, architecture and beyond.

"He found sports and that sports truly did give him his voice. It gave him an outlet for all of his energy. And when the coaches asked him to do something, it was like okay, I can do this. And so I think it gave him a nice incentive to keep moving forward and moving forward," De Kerf said.

He is now giving back as a mentor for younger athletes too.

"I want the little campers to go to the World Games too," Shimoda said.

"He truly is an amazing athlete. But better than that, he's an amazing person, teammate and member of the community," Carolyn Daley, President of the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children's Charities.

Shimoda is overcoming adversity and blazing a trail for inclusion as a Lincoln Laureate.
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