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SHS graduate working to broaden Shelby County Special Olympics' reach

Kendra Sizemore sees the beauty in sports and the tragedies in life all in a weekend.

An emergency room nurse at Eskenazi Hospital, located just west of downtown Indianapolis, Sizemore quips, “If you saw it on the news in the morning, I did it five hours ago.”

The Level I trauma center handles life-threatening cases on a hourly basis. But when her 12-hour shifts end, Sizemore returns her focus toward being the sports coordinator for Shelby County Special Olympics, where she also serves as softball coach for one of two state tournament bound teams.

“I was introduced into the role (of sports coordinator) when COVID-1 hit,” said Sizemore, a Shelbyville High School graduate who completed her Nursing degree at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). “Then we started writing COVID protocols for every sport. I didn’t sign up for that, but it worked out just fine. We are finally getting back to where all of our sports are getting to play. This is what I signed up for … to go to practices and to go to tournaments and be hands on with athletes – and not write papers.”

Sizemore (photo: back row, far left) loves her job, loves her role within Special Olympics, and is planning a wedding as 2021 shapes up to be a memorable year. Her life is in a great spot, in part, to being a 2016 Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship recipient.

“There is the obvious, I graduated (college) with a very small debt for housing. I mean I’m already out of debt,” said Sizemore when asked how the scholarship helped her. “There are people that I graduated with that are $80,000 in debt. That is such a huge burden to shoulder as a young adult. I certainly wouldn’t be looking to buy a house right now.

“Then you think about why did they do that? Why do they give out full-ride scholarships? It’s to get people to come back to Shelbyville.”

While Sizemore is not living or working full-time in Shelby County, she is fully committed to making a difference in Shelby County Special Olympics.

“I want to see us grow as a community,” she said. “Special Olympics, when I was younger, started out as a Shares sheltered workshop. It was mostly based around that population of adults with special needs. We’ve gotten more involved with the elementary school, the middle school and the high school and I think that by having more community outreach, we can really make a difference in these kids’ lives before they become adults. We can get them in some structured sports. And get them involved in the community in different ways.”

Sizemore has seen it work first hand for her brother, Kyle.

“It’s through programs like Special Olympics that my brother has jobs or volunteer opportunities,” she said. “He bowled with Special Olympics for several years and now the bowling alley hires him to put together pizza boxes in exchange for free games. He is one of many that have been touched like that.”

Sizemore was pulled into a coaching role by her father, Dan, who needed help with a Special Olympics basketball team.

“My brother is one year younger than me and is special needs. He started (Special Olympics) when he was 8,” she explained. “Dad started coaching pretty much immediately. I was 13 or 14 and he needed an assistant basketball coach. He was like, ‘Just get out there and come to practices every week.’

“I started doing it and I have been doing it ever since.”

And what Sizemore found was a new way to bond with her father.

“When I used to pitch, he was my catcher at pitching lessons. We got really close,” she said. “Then when I had my surgery and couldn’t pitch anymore, it really made things harder because we weren’t as close anymore. We didn’t have those hours and hours a week practicing together.

“Then we started coaching together and now we come home and call each other almost every day to talk about our (softball) lineups. This is our bonding experience and I love it.”

Nursing was always on Sizemore’s radar and an opportunity to job shadow at Major Hospital confirmed she was on the right track. After attending Indiana University in Bloomington for a year, she transferred to IUPUI and found a job at Eskenazi Hospital.

Sizemore has worked in Eskenazi’s emergency room since December of 2018. She admits the hospital was not overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases during its initial surges but the stress associated with dealing with the pandemic was real.

“There were a lot of tears and a lot of stress because when you are on the front line you don’t have a choice,” she said. “All of the big waves of people that we were told were coming to our hospital never came. We were empty for a long time. They talked about laying off staff because our numbers were so low. It was the complete opposite of what you expected."

Sizemore's career allows her to help people, no different than her role with Special Olympics, which continues to grow.

“I am a little biased but I think Shelby County has done a fantastic job building up their programs, especially in the upper age groups,” said Sizemore. “And that has translated into some really great teams of young adults.”

Sizemore’s softball team, and a second representative of Shelby County Special Olympics, will compete in the Special Olympics Softball State Tournament Aug. 28 at Center Grove Lassie League in Greenwood.