Special Olympics Missouri athletes pose with Truman the Tiger

Special Olympics Missouri athletes pose with Truman the Tiger on Wednesday at the MizzouRec. Special Olympics announced its partnership with MU, MU Health Care and the UM System at the event.

When Kristina Rhodes, 41, swims laps in the Mizzou Aquatic Center pool with her new prescription goggles, she can finally stay in her lane.

And finally Rhodes is able to see the thick, black lane lines that line the pool.

“It was amazing. I never thought I would be able to experience that,” Rhodes said.

Special Olympics Missouri helped her obtain her new goggles. In a move to expand its mission, Special Olympics Missouri announced its new partnership with MU, MU Health Care and the UM System on Wednesday morning at MizzouRec.

“It’s truly a win-win partnership,” said Susan Stegeman, president and CEO of Special Olympics Missouri.

The partnership aims to provide volunteer engagement, internships, education and health and wellness services to Special Olympics athletes.

Special Olympics Missouri performed more than 1,700 health screenings in 2018 — like the one that addressed Rhodes’ eye health — for its athletes to educate them and maintain their health, according to a report by Special Olympics Missouri. Stegeman said the partnership with MU Health Care is a natural fit because of the services it can help provide.

Rhodes joined Stegeman and Brian Neuner, chief development and marketing officer for Special Olympics Missouri, for the announcement along with UM System President Mun Choi, MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright, MU Health Care CEO Jonathan Curtright and MU athletic coaches.

“It was an easy decision,” Cartwright said of the partnership. “We are committed to the impact we have on people.”

The collaboration will also provide community engagement through events like the Polar Plunge, a fundraiser planned for March 14 in Columbia and other locations. Cartwright said Special Olympics Missouri’s efforts to engage people with intellectual disabilities through sports aligns with MU’s values of volunteering and involvement. Added Choi: “We believe this to our core, about providing opportunities, increasing inclusion.”

Special Olympics Missouri has over 30,000 active volunteers, according to the report.

The partnership follows the move of Special Olympics Missouri’s State Summer Games to Columbia for the next three years, beginning in 2020.

There are more than 16,000 Special Olympics athletes statewide. Rhodes has been involved since she was 8 years old. Rhodes is also an advocate for Special Olympics and has traveled the globe to Africa and Greece, meeting with leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and Muhammad Ali.

“Special Olympics has given me a voice where I feel like I can be a part of something,” Rhodes said, “and be accepted and feel complete.”

Supervising editor is Fred Anklam.

  • I am an education reporter, studying magazine journalism. Reach me at erlcf7@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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