As a child, Bree Bogucki of Cary struggled to communicate. Now, she’s giving speeches.
The 20-year-old has been named the featured Special Olympics Illinois athlete for 2018. What that basically means is those involved with the sports organization for people with disabilities think her story needs to be told.
A documentary video has been made about Bogucki, and she will co-emcee an 11th Annual Inspire Greatness Gala on April 20 at the Hilton Chicago. The video will premiere at the event. She’ll also share the stage with CBS 2 Chicago’s Rob Johnson.
It’s been quite a journey for the Cary-Grove High School graduate, who, as a child, was diagnosed with autism and sensory issues. She had a tough time having her photo taken as the flash would bother her. And she couldn’t play team sports because of the loud noise of the buzzer.
Having first tried gymnastics in Special Olympics at the age of 9, she went on to compete in volleyball, basketball, softball and powerlifting. That gave her the confidence to join the Cary-Grove High School Track Team. She went on to run for the track team at Harper College and just earned a full scholarship to run for Tennessee Wesleyan University this fall.
Oh, and she sings, too, and will perform April 20 in front of the more than 800 anticipated guests of the gala.
“I credit it all from her getting involved in Special Olympics,” her mother, Mary Ellen Bogucki, said. “It really has changed her life.”
Bree, who along with the autism struggles with obsessive compulsive and general anxiety disorders, intends to study social work.
She wants to help people.
“I just feel like throughout my life I’ve been helped. I’ve seen the impact it’s created for me and my family,” she said. “I’ve been raised to be helpful and a good person. Naturally, I want to be a good person. I want to make a difference and make an impact on the world.”
There was a time when Bree, as a child, would sit in a corner with her hood up, her mother said. She didn’t have very many friends until she started competing in Special Olympics’ team sports.
The running caught the entire family by surprise.
“She moves at a snail’s pace,” Mary Ellen said. “When she joined the Cary-Grove track team, I thought she was crazy. She would come in last all the time, but she didn’t quit. By the time she made it to senior year, she had made varsity. We still thought that was an amazing feat in itself.”
At Harper, she recently broke the college’s 10K record in her division. She can run a 5:36 mile.
“She just started getting better and better,” Mary Ellen said.
Her mother told her she could transfer to a university if she won a scholarship. She filled out 25 recruitment forms for universities throughout the country and ended up with at least 15 schools heavily recruiting her, Mary Ellen said, with Tennessee Wesleyan University offering the full athletic scholarship.
It’s a path she never thought her daughter would take, one that began with Special Olympics.
“It’s totally changed her life,” Mary Ellen said. “I don’t use that term or expression lightly.”