Three from area receive Special Olympics honors
WILLMAR — Three from the area received awards from Special Olympics Minnesota at the 2017 awards ceremony recently at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis.
Makenna and Addison Hogan of Willmar received the Unified Partner Distinguished Service Award, and Anna Knapper of Renville received the Judy Wahl Outstanding Athlete Leadership Program Athlete.
Each year, Special Olympics Minnesota honors individuals, organizations and volunteers who have made a significant contribution to our program's growth and success.
Special Olympics Minnesota Unified programs bring people with and without intellectual disabilities together for competition and other inclusive activities. Special Olympics Unified Sports joins them on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: Playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.
According to a news release announcing the honor, Makenna Hogan and Addison Hogan have been unified partners on the Kandiyohi County Independent Special Olympics 4x100 relay team for five years. Before that, they were on the sidelines cheering for their brother Quinn. They provide respect to the athletes no matter their ability level. They encourage and practice alongside athletes.
Both young ladies are dedicated to the unified movement. When they are not competing, they are either supporting other athletes on the team or volunteering their time by helping out wherever is needed. They are advocates for anti-bullying and help the team fundraise by selling Respect T-shirts. Everyone that knows these girls is "convinced that they will be the next-generation leaders for the Special Olympics movement and for persons with disabilities."
The Athlete Leadership Program was established in 2002 and has evolved from one class to now 10 classes that focus on a variety of topics from public speaking, to coaching, to advocating for health and wellness. Anna Knapper participated in the program and, according to the news release announcing the award to her, she used the information to transform her community to be more inclusive.
According to her Special Olympics coach, Knapper "has created a personal vision of leadership and is now more confident to go in her community to advocate for the Special Olympics movement."
One of the topics Knapper is passionate about and consistently speaks out against is bullying and the use of the "r-word." She has spoken to countless audiences about being bullied in school and how it has affected her, hoping that her story will inspire others to stop bullying.
Her church worship leader states that her leadership qualities have made her "fearless" and because of that "the community listens to her, and they respect her. She is a role model for all."