Disability Pride Month Game Changer Award Winner by Tim Hillman

Disability Pride Month Game Changer Award Winner by Tim Hillman

Detroit – In 2005, Tim Hillman’s eldest son was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate.

And it was after he was in the hospital for his son’s first surgery that Heilmann realized his true calling.

“Seeing that so many children and their families will be in the hospital for much longer than my son has changed the trajectory of my career,” said Hillman, who was previously the executive director of Life Enrichment Services at IKUS. “I just learned that I have been called to minister to individuals with different abilities.”

Since 2018, Hillman has served as President and CEO of Special Olympics Michigan, a nonprofit organization that provides year-round athletic, health, leadership, and educational programs to more than 20,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities and Unified Partners throughout the state of Michigan. .

Throughout Disability Pride Month, the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, and Comerica Bank will honor four individuals for dedicating their lives to helping people with disabilities.

“Tim is the true embodiment of the honor of game changers,” said Kevin Brown, Director of Community Impact at Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. “Under his leadership, Special Olympics Michigan continues to develop innovative ways to engage a significant, under-resourced portion of our community by helping thousands of athletes create memories that will last a lifetime and achieve their goals in a welcoming environment.”

Special Olympics Michigan has been part of the Special Olympics movement since its inception in 1968. After being officially incorporated in 1972, Special Olympics Michigan has grown to become one of the largest Special Olympics programs in the United States.

“We are definitely a grassroots organization,” Heilmann said. “Being an organization that now exists in every county in the state of Michigan, we’re only a staff of 40. We really rely on volunteer support as our impact expands.”

The organization currently offers 24 sports, six statewide competitions, four county basketball championships and more than 700 statewide athletic competitions. But according to Hillman, the sport does not know the Special Olympics Michigan.

“The best thing about Special Olympics in Michigan is that we use sport as a catalyst for change,” he said. “We are really not a sports organization, but rather an inclusive organization. We provide opportunities and a platform for individuals with intellectual disabilities to showcase their talents.”

For Hillman, changing the conversation around disabilities by focusing instead on abilities is rewarding.

“When I talk to our athletes or their family members, they will share stories of how they were told what they couldn’t do,” he said. “Here at Special Olympics Michigan, we provide this opportunity for our athletes to prove people wrong and show them what they can do.”

In addition to competitive sports, Special Olympics Michigan holds development programs such as Athlete Leadership, the Torch Run Training Program for Law Enforcement and Motor Activities as events to further promote inclusion.

“These people just need that one chance,” Hillman said. “Whether it’s in the sport or even in the community, they just need that one chance. That’s what Special Olympics Michigan is about.”

During his four years with Special Olympics Michigan, Hillman helped oversee the purchase and renovation of the Unified Sports and Inclusion Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, transforming a former high school into the largest Special Olympics facility in the world. It was also part of the bidding process for the City of Detroit to host the 2022 Unified Cup, the Special Olympics Soccer World Cup.

“As we increase our presence, which is great, we also get more athletes and partners who want to be involved,” Hillman said. “To serve more athletes, we need more coaches to help. We want to ensure that no athlete is left on the sidelines.”

For individuals considering volunteering with Special Olympics Michigan, Hillman emphasized that the experience is “life-changing.”

“I know it sounds cliché, but the Special Olympics in Michigan showcases all that is great about sports,” he said. “Everything about why we love sports, from competition to teamwork, that’s what you’ll find at the Special Olympics Michigan event.”

To learn more about the Special Olympics Michigan and to participate, visit SOMI.org.

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