The Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) office is abuzz. A few staffers are huddled around one of several desks crammed into the smallish office space on Gorton Community Center’s second floor.
The buzz, I suspect, has to do with the fact that the organization’s annual gala, A Night of Champions, will be held in a few weeks on April 18. GLASA provides integrative Paralympic, recreational, and competitive sport activities for youth and adults, including injured military who have physical or visual disabilities, and the benefit is the organization’s biggest fundraiser.
Given the significance of the event, I’m expecting Cherie Hrusovsky, GLASA’s development director, to be slightly harried. But if Hrusovsky is feeling stressed, she isn’t showing it. Instead, she is relaxed, quick with a smile, soft lines forming around her eyes as she says hello. Hrusovsky, who has worked for GLASA since 2007, oversees the non-profit’s events, public relations, and corporate and individual giving. Because GLASA has just five full-time employees, Hrusovsky, like everyone on staff, wears many hats. Her greatest challenge, she tells me, is trying to strike a balance between the various tasks. That, “and raising enough money,” she says with a smile. “That’s always a challenge.”
But when you love what you do, no challenge is too great, says Hrusovsky. “The money I raise is all about these athletes,” she says. “It gives me such a sense of satisfaction. I don’t know what I would do without GLASA.” Here, Hrusovsky’s voice wavers, and she pauses to wipe away a tear before she continues. “When my kids were grown up and finished college and all that was over, I thought, I love my church and my community, but I need something more. I really need to make a difference in somebody’s life.”
While Hrusovsky describes her work as being conducted “behind the scenes,” it becomes apparent during our conversation that she is one of the athletes’ biggest cheerleaders. Like a proud mom, she tells me about Christian Clemmons from Zion, a GLASA track athlete who has been identified as a Paralympic hopeful for the 2020 Tokyo games. She mentions Nina Nissly, a Lake Forest High School (LFHS) grad and a member of the National Women’s Sled Hockey Team. Anastazia Kohout, she notes, earned a State Championship title for Athletes with Disabilities in 2014 with the LFHS swim team. Then there’s JJ O’Connor, who was paralyzed playing hockey when he was a high-school senior at Loyola Academy. Now 36-years-old, O’Connor is captain of GLASA’s Power Soccer team. He spoke at the annual gala two years ago and “silenced the room” with his powerful story, says Hrusovsky.
One of her favorite recent memories, she tells me, is of 16-year-old Grayslake High School junior Brian Nelson competing in last year’s 5K Twilight Run. “Brian, who has cerebral palsy, was riding his bike through the course and his bike broke,” recalls Hrusovsky. “He wasn’t going to quit. But he’s never walked a long distance, ever. He got up and walked to the finish line and finished that race. He was sweating. His mother was standing there, tears in her eyes. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. It was amazing.”
About the Gala: A Night of Champions, the annual benefit to support the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA), will be held on Sat., April 18 from 7 to 11 p.m. at Lake Forest Sportscars in Lake Bluff. Proceeds from the event will help GLASA provide year-round daily adaptive sports programming, financial assistance for the 63 percent of athletes who use the Athlete Scholarship Fund, and the purchase of adaptive equipment. The event, which celebrates GLASA athletes, coaches,and supporters, is a night of cocktails, gourmet food, live and silent auctions, and entertainment. For more informatioon and to buy tickets, visit glasagala.org.
– By Jenny Quill // Illustration by Kirsten Ulve