Golden Gators win 8 gold medals at Special Olympics Summer Games

Four of NSSRA’s nine Gator athletes — (from left) Mike Sener (Evanston, Tim Siebert (Lake Bluff), Gillian Segall (Highland Park) and Randy Huffmaster (Highland Park) — participating in Special Olympics Illinois’ opening ceremonies parade June 7 at Illinois State University. (Photo courtesy of NSSRA)

It was a golden experience for nine members of NSSRA’s Gator Athletics teams at Illinois Special Olympics’ annual State Summer Games, taking place June 7-8.

Competing in swimming, powerlifting and track and field, the team walked away with a collective 14 medals, eight of them gold.

“The 4×25-meter relay was the most exciting event of the weekend,” said Katie James, a coach and NSSRA’s recreation specialist for Gator athletics. “The Gators won by just a few seconds, and between their families and our coaches and their teammates, there was a whole lot of cheering, hugging and happy crying happening in the bleachers.”

In addition to the 4×25-meter relay, each swimmer also placed in one or more of their other events, with Josh Devries (Deerfield) winning first place in the 50-meter freestyle, Daniel Eichengreen (Highland Park) also taking first in his division of the 50-meter freestyle, Gillian Segall placing secondnd in the 100-meter butterfly, and Tim Siebert winning gold in the 25-meter butterfly and bronze in the 50-meter breaststroke.

Tim Siebert (Lake Bluff) celebrates his first-place win in the 25-meter butterfly event. (Photo courtesy of NSSRA)

Peter Mattson, head coach for the Gator swim team, remarked, “I was amazed to see their level of teamwork and cooperation this year. They build each other up, are quick to offer encouragement if one of them is having a rough day and celebrate their victories.” He continued, “The 4×25 was a new event for everyone this year, but practicing for it brought them together, both as a team and as friends.”

Ranging in age from 18 to 39, three Gator powerlifters and two track and field athletes also competed at the Games. Sam Green of Winnetka, a SSG veteran at just 18, placed first in the 3,000-meter run and second in the 1,500-meter run. His teammate and first-time Games competitor, Brett Tutt (Northfield), placed fourth in mini javelin.

Rounding out NSSRA’s band of athletes were three powerlifters, Randy Huffmaster and Miguel Lara of Highland Park and Mike Sener of Evanston. NSSRA’s powerlifters have dominated at the Games in recent years, and this year was no different. Winning three gold and three silver medals between them, nearly half of the Gators’ total medal count, the team’s hard work over the last several months showed.

Gator swimming competitor Gillian Segall (Highland Park) proudly displays her medals with Coach Megan Kaufman (Norridge) after competition on June 8. (Photo courtesy of NSSRA)

Mattson, also head coach for Gator powerlifting, commented, “The guys are scrappy. They pump each other up at practice, and cheer when somebody gets a good rep in. They’re a real team; one member’s victory is everyone’s victory.”

“One of our athletes had to miss last season because he was dealing with some significant health issues,” Mattson continued. “He was able to rejoin us this year though, and he bounced back in a big way. Seeing him perform so well this year was a really special moment.”

“Gators never give up,” was the team’s mantra this year, and after months of perseverance in practices and qualifying competitions, what is most impressive is not the Gators’ 14 medals, but their tenacious spirit and loyal support of each other every step of the way.

NSSRA Gator Athletes | 2019 State Summer Games Standings

Gator powerlifting athletes Randy Huffmaster (Highland Park) and Mike Sener (Evanston) cheer on their fellow teammates at Saturday’s swim competition during the annual Illinois State Summer Games. (Photo courtesy of NSSRA)

Randy Huffmaster, Highland Park

4th: Bench Press
1st: Combination Bench & Deadlift
5th: Deadlift

Miguel Lara, Highland Park
2nd: Bench Press
2nd: Deadlift

Mike Sener, Evanston
1st: Bench Press
1st: Combination Bench & Deadlift
2nd: Deadlift

Josh DeVries, Deerfield
1st: 4×25-meter Freestyle Relay
6th: 50-meter Breaststroke
1st: 50-meter Freestyle

Daniel Eichengreen, Highland Park
1st: 4×25-meter Freestyle Relay
1st: 50-meter Freestyle

Gillian Segall, Highland Park
2nd: 100-meter Butterfly
4th: 100-meter Individual Medley
1st: 4×25-meter Freestyle Relay

Gator swimming athlete Josh Devries (Deerfield) poses with his dad after winning gold in the 50-meter freestyle. (Photo courtesy of NSSRA)

Tim Siebert, Lake Bluff
1st: 25-meter Butterfly
1st: 4×25-meter Freestyle Relay
3rd: 50-meter Breaststroke

Track & Field
Sam Green, Winnetka
2nd: 1,500-meter Run
1st: 3,000-meter Run

Brett Tutt, Northfield
4th: Mini Javelin