Crystal Schuster embodies the heart and spirit of SOMO.

This article originally appeared in our January/February 2022 edition.

Like most staff members at Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO), Crystal Schuster wears multiple hats, juggling duties from managing the medals and awards stand at events to being a key part of SOMO’s fundraising team. SOMO supports programs and athletic competition for nearly seventeen thousand Missouri athletes with intellectual disabilities. Now in her sixteenth year with SOMO, Crystal’s primary role as development director is working with the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.

Perhaps not surprisingly, she also gets a good soaking or two with the Polar Plunge, the law enforcement fundraiser with a long and chilly history.

Crystal Schuster, Special Olympics Missouri development director
Crystal Schuster, Special Olympics Missouri development director

Q – Let’s start with that image of SOMO staff wearing multiple hats.

A – You do it for the athletes. Just being around the athletes is a great reminder of why we do what we do. It’s great motivation.

Q — When did you first discover that motivation?

A – One of the first things that made me realize I was hooked is when I helped out at the Spring Games in Rolla. That would have been April 2006. They put me at the awards stand and I got to put medals around athletes’ necks. The smile on their face and hug I got was just enough to make me realize this is where I want to be and what I want to be doing.

Q – How many times have you had that experience?

A – I’ve lost count. I’m fortunate enough to still work the awards stand, but now I get to see the police officers experience that very thing. Watching the interaction between law enforcement and our athletes is one of the coolest things you could ever see.

Q – The SOMO experience is often described as a family affair. How is that true for your family?

A – Everything we do, our kids are part of if they’re able to be there. Our oldest, Molly, seventeen, is going to the USA Games in Orlando next year as a sports manager for aquatics. She’s already spending some time with her athletes at practices. She’s over the moon excited about it.

Q – Speaking of family, your husband, Tim, is also on the SOMO staff. What is his role?

A – He oversees the central area and all our regional, district, and state competitions. He’s been here fifteen years—one year less than me. We’ve been married nine years.

Q – What work did you do previously and how did you connect with SOMO?

A – I taught pre-K at a small Christian school in O’Fallon. What really got me connected with SOMO is that my best friend had a daughter who was born with Down syndrome. I just knew I needed to do something more. I thought about becoming a volunteer. One day I went to fill out the form, and I found out they were hiring in Jeff City. I called them. The rest is history.

Q – With such a small staff providing so many opportunities—that has to be exhausting at times.

A – It goes back to the athletes. That smile or that hug, or “Hey, Crystal!” from across the playing field, with a smile ear to ear. There are days you’re just spent. Then an athlete comes by and pats you on the back or says “Thank you” for making this happen for me, and all that tiredness goes away and kind of re-energizes you for another day.

Q – A lot of people think of Special Olympics in terms of sports or an event. How do you describe it?

A – I’ve told people so many times that Special Olympics is not just a one-day track meet. It’s year-round for individuals with intellectual disabilities. And it’s even beyond what goes on on the playing field. The things that we do with health and wellness and the relationships they make—it’s more than sports. It’s more than health and wellness. It’s about friendship and family.