Lakeland athlete throws himself into Special Olympics work


Photo courtesy of the VanDoorn family

Tim VanDoorn and his sister pose with her Special Olympics gold medal at last year’s events.

Leah Ulatowski, Editor-in-Chief

Unlike most siblings, Tim VanDoorn, senior exercise science and sport studies major, says that he and his teenage sister, Sara, have never had a fight.

“Sara was born with autism, and it took me a while to really understand that it affected her. My relationship with Sara is something special,” VanDoorn said. “My sister participates in many Special Olympics activities. I wanted to make sure that she was working her hardest, so I decided to help her out.”

After meeting Sara’s affable teammates, VanDoorn instantly knew that he wanted to be involved with the Special Olympics of Illinois. In 2012, he and a friend began coaching his sister’s track and field team. He instructs the throwers and assists in meet preparation.

VanDoorn is a longstanding member of Lakeland’s track and field team who represents the Muskies in throwing events. He also lettered in both track and field and football at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, Ill.  VanDoorn certainly brings his experience to the table when assisting with the Special Olympics, but his athletes have also taught him a few lessons.

“I learned to have fun—even in competition,” VanDoorn said. “I also learned that anyone can be an athlete; all it takes is the drive and heart to be that athlete.”

While his Special Olympics team has enjoyed many achievements, VanDoorn cannot help but beam with pride when recalling one of his earliest memories of the group’s success.

“The most memorable moment I had in the Special Olympics was when my Sara’s team won the gold medal for the first time back in the summer of 2012,” VanDoorn said.

As VanDoorn’s undergraduate studies come to a close, he aspires to become an athletic director at the high school or collegiate level. However, he has not ruled out the possibility of working for the Special Olympics as a career at some point in his life. In any case, he knows for certain that his involvement with the organization will continue.

“I want to be involved with this organization until the day I die. I love this organization and I would never do anything to soil its good name,” VanDoorn said.

With each passing year, their involvement with the Special Olympics has only made the bond between the VanDoorn siblings even stronger.

“I’ve been told by many that my sister really looks up to me,” VanDoorn said. “However, I look up to her because she does so much with Special Olympics and does a great job. She never ceases to amaze me.”