Two local athletes going to compete
Two county residents leave today for the nation's top Special Olympics competition.
They're among 3,500 athletes from all over the country traveling to Trenton, N.J., to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games, a week-long event.
Only 53 athletes will come from Illinois.
Emily Eisenmenger of Tolono is an all-around athlete who especially likes baseball and softball, and will compete in four track events: the 800-meter run, the 1,500-meter run, the long jump and the 400-meter relay.
The long jump doesn't quite fit with distance running skills.
"I just thought it would be cool to try out," she says.
Eisenmenger loves running at any speed.
"It always makes me more relaxed," she said.
A Unity grad, she's starting at Parkland College this fall and will take general education classes — leading to a nursing degree.
"I just like to help people," she says of her career decision. "I like being around kids."
Her mother, Amy Eisenmenger, president of the Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation Mustang Booster Club, says that's the personality of Emily, a triplet who has two siblings with similar career interests. Sisters Kailey and Ashley are also athletes.
"They were super-competitive when they were younger," their mom says.
Urbana's Caleb Crede will compete in the aquatics competition, including the 100-meter freestyle, the 50-meter backstroke, 25-meter breaststroke and the 4-by-25-meter medley relay.
Crede works at Carle Foundation Hospital. He has been involved in Special Olympics for 13 years and also has volunteered with the Tom Jones Challenger League.
He's also active with Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana.
"I'm very excited to be going to nationals in New Jersey," he said. "I want to make new friends, go for gold and have some fun. I can't wait to represent Illinois in swimming."
Eisenmenger said she was looking forward to meeting athletes from all over the country. Her mother says she will be trading Olympics paraphernalia with competitors from other states.
Eisenmenger's softball and basketball teams have won gold medals at the state level the past two seasons.
Hannah Sheets is her track coach, though her first love is volleyball.
Sheets has been busy training athletes from all over the state in volleyball for the games.
She has a good base in coaching runners, too. As the athletics coordinator for Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation, she started the "Frunner Club," a 5K training program for participants with disabilities.
She said the local Special Olympics contenders earned their way to the nationals and thinks they will fare well.
The athletes return June 21.
A special treat
The Special Olympics is a global movement that has been active for more than 43 years, starting as a summer camp in a backyard.
It has grown to the point where the 2014 USA Games host almost 3,500 athletes in 16 sports.
The event starts Saturday and will be held at venues throughout New Jersey, including the Prudential Center, home of the NHL's Devils, and Princeton University.
To follow the action on Twitter, go to @2014USAGames.