By Rosie Langello
Barbra Shimoda said she vividly remembers the first time her son starting skating at the age of 7. She never imagined it would lead to him attending the 2017 Special Olympic Winter World Games.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen,” Barbra Shimoda said. “We know we have our State Games in Illinois but the World Games—it’s just not something you can plan for.”
Out of 6,800 Chicago Special Olympic athletes, Tommy Shimoda is the only Chicagoan attending the games. The 24-year-old is headed to Austria in March with six other athletes from Illinois that will be representing Team USA. He will be competing in two speed skating events; the 500-meter race and the 777-meter race.
Shimoda is diagnosed with autism and communicates to others using a voice box. He’s been skating for 17 years and said his biggest inspiration is his brother, Clarke.
“I like speed skating because I get to go fast,” Shimoda said. “Since I started training more for the games, my brother said I now skate faster than him.”
Shimoda has been preparing for the World Games ever since he found out he would be attending after the State Games last year.
“I have been practicing three times a week,” Shimoda said.
Chicago Parks District coach, Lisa Mulcrone said she was thrilled when she received an email announcement from Illinois Special Olympics that he would be attending the games.
Mulcrone said that when they found out about Shimoda attending the games, they were already skating every Saturday. They decided to kick it up a notch by adding two more practices in a week and they brought in skating coach, Kevin Coyne.
Coyne became involved after he interned for Special Olympics Massachusetts in college. When he moved to Chicago, he met Shimoda during an ice hockey practice. He now coaches Shimoda and a UAA hockey team in Norwood Park.
“When I was first asked to come and help out with coaching, I didn’t realize the extent of it,” Coyne said. “Barbra said he would be competing and when she told me that he was going to World Games it was definitely special. He deserves it after all the hard work he has been putting in with ice hockey and speed skating.”
Shimoda isn’t a stranger when it comes to competition. Mulcrone said that she has coached him in over 14 different sports throughout this year in the Parks district and said that Shimoda never has an offseason.
“You can show Tommy something once on the ice or in the gymnastics center and if you show him the right way, he will pick it up very easily just by watching him do it,” Mulcrone said. “He’s a great teammate, he comes to every single practice and his family is great as well. They make sure he gets to every single practice and he’s with us five days a week practicing for different sports.”
Barbra, his brother Clarke and Mulcrone will be traveling to the World Games with Tommy. While their rooms and flights have been booked, Barbra said now it’s just a matter of packing and waiting for everything to fall in place.
“The craziest part about it, is not knowing the schedule,” Barbra said. “We don’t know what is happening day to day and we are planning for a two-week trip that all of the rules and all of the dates are kind of fluid and kind of changing.”
While Coyne will not be attending the World Games, he will be able to watch Shimoda compete on ESPN and ABC.
“We have to thank Special Olympic Illinois and Special Olympic Chicago,” Barbra said. “They are the organizations that have made this possible, not only for my son but for every athlete in Illinois that has special needs.”