The Special Survivor Games joins special needs children with buddies, bring the community together. And the event is our focus on this week’s Sports Story Sunday.
Inside Peterson Elementary School is something unique to Naperville, something that brings the entire community together for an afternoon of fun and competition… the Special Survivor Games.
Marissa Kucharski: Every year it’s amazing to see how happy it can make everybody, you just see smiles across everyone’s faces during the entire game.
Marissa Kucharski and her family began holding a summer event, the survivor games, in 2008… where kids from the neighborhood would come to race and play. And from that, the special survivor games were born from the mind of 5th grader, Marissa in 2012.
Marissa Kucharski: I was always frustrated that my friend Sean, who has severe autism, couldn’t participate because he’s not able to regulate his body temperature properly. So we figured out a way to rent this space and get all of his friends and my friends together to do those same relay races and games.
So now the Kucharski, along with a host of volunteers and participants, gather inside on a cool, March day to have some fun.
That includes Dahlia Ramirez, and her mother Evilyn.
Evilyn Ramirez: It’s a great experience for her because she gets to be on a team and play with other kids and she sees that she’s not that different. So she really enjoys it.
And she’s not alone. Each game and activity is adapted to ensure everyone can participate and have fun. And for every child with special needs, there are two buddies there to join them in competition
Clare Malloy: It’s super impactful and really nice to see the smile on your face as well as other people and it just makes you feel good.
Clare Malloy is 15, and her sister Nora is 10… both have come out for a second year to be apart of the festivities. Nora’s favorite part?
Nora Malloy: Just showing kids that no matter how you are, how old you are, anything like that, you can do it and just try your best.
For Clare and Nora’s mother, Rita, the special survivor games is another perfect opportunity for her to instill her daughters with valuable life lessons
Rita Malloy: I’m all about life lessons with my family, so ones that teaches them patience and compassion and then acceptance of others people with all different abilities.
Among the games played – a forward AND backward relay… a ball-on-a-spoon race, and a scooter race… perfect opportunities for participants and volunteers to bond.
Anne Ruppe: When I was growing up I didn’t have anybody I knew with a disability, I didn’t have that experience. I think it’s good that they learn how to work with different types and, like, my son is non-verbal, he doesn’t speak at all. So it’s hard for people to grasp that at times.
Anne Ruppe has a son, Ben, who has been coming to the games for 4 years… and it’s just a one part of the community that her family has come to learn is inclusive.
Anne Ruppe: Naperville in general is very supportive anywhere we go – All different kind of opportunities, different organizations. Just having these kids, 2-to-1 like you said, its just overwhelming for a parent to have things like this for us.
Marissa Kucharski: I like taking the pictures during the events so I don’t actually participate in it because I like to look for those moments that you can capture. Because, when you can capture a moment that someone is sharing with another person is amazing.
And on this day, amazing smiles dazzled all over the gym… shining ever brighter on the 7th edition of the Special Survivor games.
Reporting for Sports Story Sunday, I’m Kevin Jackman