MU and Special Olympics Missouri announce new partnership

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COLUMBIA - Special Olympics Missouri announced on Wednesday it will be working more closely with the University of Missouri System.

The new partnership will help "Special Olympics Missouri to tap into the statewide reach" of the University of Missouri, UM system and MU Health Care, according to a Special Olympics Missouri news release. 

"The partnership is really great for Missouri," Special Olympics athlete Jared Niemeyer said. "We can participate in Special Olympics year-round. We're very proud of them - their support and partnership."

Special Olympics Missouri announced less than a month ago it will hold its State Summer games in Columbia next year. They were previously held in Springfield. 

"Sometimes people think about the University of Missouri as a Boone County sort of thing," MU Health Care CEO Jonathan Curtright said. "It's not." 

MU Women's Basketball Coach Robin Pingeton said she is especially appreciative of the new collaboration. 

"My youngest son is eight years old," Pingeton said. "His name is Zach. I want people to see him as a human being, not a birth defect."

She said it will reach many people across the state.

"People with special needs can live as full, exciting lives as any other," she said. "They just need people to believe in them and to give them a chance."

Susan Stegeman, President and CEO of Special Olympics Missouri, said she feels a lot of hope "from resources and the enthusiasm from the system of wanting to get involved and helping expand what we already do in SOMO."

She said athletes could potentially stay in residence halls and eat at the dining halls during the summer games. 

Special Olympics Missouri is also recovering from a a tornado that whipped through Jefferson City, tearing the roof off of its new Training for Life Campus.

Niemeyer said the new partnership will help fund its recovery. 

Some of the money will be "going to the Special Olympics of Missouri and rebuild TLC - Training for Life Campus," he said. 

Stegeman said she hopes to see more interns throughout Special Olympics Missouri and mentors from the UM System in its leadership program. 

"Special Olympics is my family, and it's helping the Special Olympics fund," Niemeyer said.