Special Olympics Chicago returns with scaled-down event in Dunbar Park

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After being sidelined last year because of the pandemic, the Special Olympics are back - and adjusted for COVID.

It's smaller, held in Dunbar Park in Bronzeville, instead of near Soldier Field. There are cardboard cutouts of famous faces in place of fans in the stands. And instead of thousands of athletes competing over a three-day period, up to 100 athletes compete each day.

But perhaps there's even more excitement for this in-person event. For the past year, athletes could only see each other over Zoom.

"It was really hard for them not to do any of the activities or participate in Special Olympics," said Ann Schoenecker, mother of a Special Olympian.

Schoenecker's son, Thomas, competes in the softball throw. Pat Fallon's son, Aidan, has been an Olympic power lifter for 15 years. He won a medal this year.

RELATED | Chicago Polar Plunge goes virtual amid COVID-19 pandemic

"To be locked up for a year, it's exciting to be out with the rest of the athletes," Pat Fallon said. "Aidan was looking forward to competing today."

"We're so excited we could provide this because the idea that they couldn't see each other anymore. It's hard to keep saying we don't know, we don't know," said Heather Kundert, Special Olympics Chicago.

The Special Olympics was paid for by the money raised during the Polar Plunge earlier this year. It was a virtual event that raised $1 million. The financial support is greatly appreciated at a time when the event had to be scaled back.

"They still get to come out and experience everything they love about the Special Olympics," Kundert said. "The competition, the friends, the comradery."

And of course, that Olympic spirit.

"My brother told me, never give up," Aidan said.
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