When I asked Jolene what word best describes her personality, she looked at me, grinning ear to ear. “Enthusiastic,” she said. “I would have to say that I’m an enthusiastic person.”
My conversation with Jolene, occupational therapist in Altru’s Pediatric Therapy, was brief. But, it was obvious that anyone who knows her, whether from Altru, Grand Forks, throughout the Red River Valley, or, most recently, South Korea, would definitely agree. She is enthusiastic.
Discovering Special Olympics
In February, Jolene’s son Tommy Mikkelson competed in the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.
Growing up, Tommy was eager to play every sport offered in Grand Forks. As he got older, the playing field was more competitive. “When his seventh grade teacher suggested he try Special Olympics, it was a game changer, for the both of us,” said Jolene. “Special Olympics has become my hobby.”
Over the course of Tommy’s ten years with Special Olympics, Jolene has devoted countless hours to the organization. Whether it’s serving on the board, coaching cross country skiing, making meals for athletes, coordinating events or cheering on her son, Jolene brings her enthusiasm to every facet of Special Olympics.
Her and her husband’s hard work has paid off. Tommy is now a decorated Olympian. He returned from South Korea with three medals, including the Gold medal in alpine skiing. “We are very proud of our young man,” she said.
Spread the Word to End the Word
In recent years, Jolene has brought her enthusiasm to a new movement presented through Special Olympics: Spread the Word to End the Word.
The nation-wide campaign strives to promote understanding and acceptance between people with and without intellectual disabilities, and stop the use of the offensive word “retard.”
“I got involved with the R-word to educate people and let them know how very painful the word is,” she said. “Words change attitudes. Attitudes change behavior. I encourage everyone to take the pledge to stop using this word.”