By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Charlie Phillips and his mother, Tina Schoonmaker, attended the Missouri Western football season opener on September 1 against Central Oklahoma at Spratt Stadium in St Joseph.
Phillips and the Special Olympics Missouri flag football team were honored on the field prior to kickoff. The team competed against Special Olympics Kansas at Spratt Stadium during Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp.
However, there was a special, surprise announcement for Phillips right after for the entire stadium to hear.
"Charlie Phillips from Savannah, Missouri - you have been nominated to represent Special Olympics Missouri and Special Olympics USA in powerlifting at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany!"
"After they announced it," Charlie recalled, "I saw myself on the jumbotron. Then, I got the letter. I was on the news a couple of times. I was so happy that night."
The 25-year-old Phillips will compete in the Special Olympics Team USA trials in San Antonio November 14-18 in an attempt to qualify for the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.
"He's, I would say, very deserving of it," Schoonmaker said. "Ever since he's gotten into powerlifting, he's been very focused on that sport and still does it when it's out of season for Special Olympics.
Phillips has competed in Special Olympics for close to 15 years. He started by competing in soccer, speed skating and track and field. But from an early age, he was drawn to powerlifting. Once he got a little older, he finally got his chance.
He's been powerlifting regularly for the past seven years.
"I never quit doing it," Charlie said, "because it's...my life. It's a passion. It's like, anyone can do it."
Schnoonmaker says Charlie's love for competition and lifting goes well beyond Special Olympics.
"He belongs to the United States Powerlifting Association," she said. "He competes along with other lifters. He doesn't just do Special Olympics in powerlifting. He still does flag football and basketball."
Phillips says anyone can take up powerlifting if they wanted. Yet, he acknowledges that simply getting the opportunity to try out for Team USA required a lot of ups and downs.
"It's like a mountain," Charlie said. "Lots of ups and downs. It's very difficult, but after you compete for those first years, and your competition is complete, you just want to do more and that's what I'm doing now."
All of that work has now led to a moment Charlie has dreamed about for years.
"I've been working so hard to achieve my goals," he said. "This is one of my dreams. Ever since I started Special Olympics, I told my parents, my siblings, I said, 'One day, I will go to a World Games.' And, I'm almost there."
Schoonmaker has noticed an uncanny work ethic with Charlie when it comes to powerlifting. Every Monday, he sees coach J.P. Price at Strong Barbell Club in North Kansas City. He lifts at his home every Wednesday and Friday.
"During COVID, Charlie continued," she said. "He just never stopped."
Charlie's drive to compete is ever present as well. In fact, he helped organize a powerlifting meet on Sunday, November 13 - the weekend before he leaves for San Antonio for the Team USA trials.
With the help of Price and Liz Strain at Strong Barbell Club, lifters from both Missouri and Kansas Special Olympics came together last year for a 'Border War' meet, and it's expected to be bigger this year with more competitors.
Phillips has not only forged a path for himself to compete and do what he loves, but his story and his drive is making that path possible for other Special Olympians also.
"He's opening more doors and introducing more people to Special Olympics as volunteers," Schoonmaker said. "Seeing them as athletes and seeing that they're serious just like the other athletes out there in powerlifting."
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.