By STEVE EIGHINGERHerald-Whig Staff Writer
It's no coincidence that Chris Reffett will be part of the Special Olympics Illinois coaching delegation that is traveling to New Jersey for a national competition.
Five years ago, Reffett and his wife, Jill, had a daughter, RayLee, who was born with Down syndrome.
"That got us involved in a different path," he said.
Reffett assists Special Olympians who take part in track and field, and his wife is a former area director for the organization. The couple also adopted Mila, who is now 3 and also has Down syndrome. In between is a third daughter, Sophie, 4.
Reffett will be part of a 76-person Special Olympics Illinois contingent that will be competing Saturday through June 21 at numerous sites in New Jersey as part of the annual Special Olympics of the United States. He will be working with Special Olympians from around the country at the track and field challenges scheduled at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J.
"I'm looking forward to the whole experience of something like this coming together," Reffett said.
Grace Stevens, 70, of Quincy, will be competing in bocce at the same event.
Nearly 3,500 athletes will be part of the Special Olympics, which feature 16 Olympic-style sports. About 1,000 coaches and 10,000 volunteers from across the country will attend.
"This is a different part of America, but it is part of who we are," Reffett said. "The most gratifying part for me will be seeing these athletes do the best they can, trying their hardest."
Stevens has participated in the Special Olympics more than 20 years.
"Being involved in Special Olympics has encouraged me to stay active and be heathy," she said in a Special Olympics release. "It also gives me a chance to hang out and have fun with friends."
Special Olympics Illinois offers year-round training and competition in 19 sports for nearly 21,500 traditional athletes with intellectual disabilities and more than 18,500 young athletes ages 2-7 with and without intellectual disabilities.
Special Olympics programs are designed to enhance physical fitness, motor skills, self-confidence, social skills and encourage family and community support.