Special Olympian from Mount Greenwood to receive Illinois' highest honor

A Special Olympian from Chicago's South Side is set to make history when he receives the state's highest order called the Order of Lincoln.

While practicing rowing Tuesday morning, Tommy Shimoda showed the determination he’s used to push through many challenges. Rowing is one of his latest sports, on top of the more than 20 others.

"I like playing all sports. I play sports every day. My favorite sport is gymnastics," Tommy said, using a small hand held computer device called a VOCA.

He's autistic and non-verbal, but that can't stop him from breaking yet another barrier. On Saturday, Tommy will become the first Special Olympics athlete to win the Order of Lincoln, the state’s highest award for professional achievement and public service.

It’s an emotional moment for Tommy’s mom, who had tears in her eyes as she spoke.

"This honor from the state, it's over the top, it's nothing in my wildest dreams I could ever have anticipated," said Barbara DeKerf.

Beginning at 5-years-old in Mount Greenwood, Tommy has been involved with Special Olympics Chicago, becoming one of the group's most celebrated athletes, even winning gold at the World Games.

"I won a gold medal, I won a bronze medal too in speed skating," said Tommy.


The Order of Lincoln award is not just meaningful for Tommy. It’s a moment of inclusion that his coaches say is vital for all the athletes that compete alongside him.

"I think it's just so awesome. I mean, Go Tommy! I think that his peers can see it and go, 'that's great because that could be me one day,'" said Liz Clark-Wood, Special Olympics Chicago instructor.

"He represents his friends and his teammates. He's the heart of Special Olympics and he's at the heart of what can be achieved through sports and inclusion for young people with disabilities," added DeKerf.

Tommy will receive the award Saturday at the Chicago History Museum.

"I am very happy to have the Order of Lincoln. It is special and I will wear a tuxedo at the museum," he said.

With style and a fighting spirit, Tommy keeps proving just how special he is.