The Illinois Special Olympic Fall Games featured two major competitions - equestrian and volleyball. Both were held in the Stateline area as Bravehearts in Poplar Grove welcomed the horse riders to the area, while Harlem High School played host to the volleyball tournament. Hundreds of athletes from all over the state competed, including various teams from our region.
"It's really special to me. I've been dreaming about this my entire life," said nine-year old Ella Hodges, a Rockford native and equestrian competitor who was born with spina bifida. She's confined to a wheelchair normally, but not when she's inside Bravehearts, where she is a regular participant in therapeutic riding. She won a silver medal on Sunday.
The volleyball event had teams from Rockford and Belvidere, including unified teams where coaches and players participated in games, offering an even greater hands-on experience for coaches.
"It's really awesome. They're not just kids, but also adults. To mentor people who are older than me and look up to me with the help they need in volleyball, it's really cool to coach them," said Rockford Special Olympics coach Grant Panzella.
It was a memorable weekend for all participants, furthering the Special Olympics mission to offer engaging and athletic opportunities to its athletes.