Despite Special Olympics Cancellation, One Springfield Athlete Trains On

Jul 12, 2019

Kit Gillihan showing his athletic medals.
Credit Bailey Vassalli / KSMU

The Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games were cancelled this year after a tornado damaged the organization’s headquarters in Jefferson City. Despite the setback, one Springfield athlete keeps training.

“These medals I’ve got on are actually from state-level basketball and bowling this year,” said Kit Gillihan.

Gillihan proudly displays his many medals from Missouri athletic competitions. Basketball and bowling are only two of the sports he practices for the Special Olympics Missouri Summer Games. The full list is impressive.

”Basketball, bowling, track and field, golf, tennis, and bocce,” he said.

Gillihan starts off every day with a five mile walk—and that’s a minimum, he said. During his training season, he practices at least an hour for each of his other sports.

We join him as he leaves his apartment for his morning walk.

Since birth, Gillihan has lived with cerebral palsy, a brain disorder that affect his muscles, movement and speech. He lives by himself in Springfield.

In school, he was bullied. Other kids threw quarters at his head when the teacher wasn’t looking. And they stuffed him in a locker.

But he stuck with his education, taking one step at a time. And in May, he received a certificate of computer science from Ozarks Technical Community College.

But it was largely in sports that he found his identity.

Gillihan and his twin brother, Nate, competed in Special Olympics for 20 years. Then, two years ago, Nate passed away.

Kit Gillihan says Special Olympics made him feel part of a large community, regardless of his abilities.

“Special Olympics aims for inclusion of the disabled people with the non-disabled people, and volunteers that help with the events get just as much joy out of the events as the athletes do,” he said.

Dr. Shawn Freeman, a clinical psychologist working in Ozark, Missouri says involvement in sports can be life-changing for people with disabilities.

“The benefits can be very, very widespread, for the individual, for social relationships, obviously for physical well-being, and then also their emotional health,” Freeman said.

“We’ve all got disabilities when you look up the definition of the word,” Gillihan said.

When the Special Olympics Missouri State Games were canceled this year due to the Jefferson City tornado, Kit Gillihan says he was devastated.

But he’s not missing a beat; he says he’ll continue to work year-round to compete in the games next year.

Gillihan is honoring the memory of his late brother by organizing a bowling tournament at Sunshine Lanes in January. Proceeds from that event will go to the Springfield Special Olympics. For more information, you can email kitgillihan@yahoo.com.