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Chris Lenzen memorial gift benefits Campus

Chris Lenzen learned at a very early age that differences in people were normal. He loved spending time with his aunt who had Down syndrome. He made friends with fellow students who were different, often picking them for his team in gym class. “His whole life, he was around people with differences,” explains his mother, Polly Lenzen. “He got really comfortable with differences. From the time he started kindergarten, there was always someone with disabilities. He would always defend and befriend them.”

For Chris, it was no big deal. But as his suburban St. Louis community witnessed after Chris’ untimely death, he inspired a legacy to benefit those involved in Special Olympics Missouri. And that’s a very big deal.

Chris Lenzen was an 18-year-old graduate of Marquette High School who was killed in a tragic car accident two days before he left to attend college at the University of Missouri.

Chris’ Story

The Lenzen family, though devastated by the loss of their son, began a legacy of giving with a memorial gift in Chris’ name to benefit the Special Olympics Missouri Training for Life Campus, the first-ever comprehensive training facility for Special Olympics athletes throughout the state.

This gift reflected Chris’ generous spirit and remarkable understanding that the differences between people should bring us together. When Chris was a high school freshman, his high school basketball team held a clinic with a Special Olympics Missouri team coached by Mark Bussen. Chris showed his teammates the perfect example of acceptance and inclusion of their new friends from SOMO. For the next four years, the Marquette basketball team mentored and supported their friends at SOMO, as did Chris’ Marquette baseball team.

“Chris was just a leader,” explains Bussen. “It wasn’t like they were special needs kids. To him they were just friends.” Coach Bussen acknowledged the profound impact Chris made on his SOMO team: “It’s like they were playing with Michael Jordan. That’s how much they looked up to him.”

Bob Lenzen, Chris’ father, agrees. “He just went out there and felt comfortable,” he explains. “All the other players followed his lead.”

Marquette High School awarded Chris with its Sportsmanship, Integrity and Ethics award, which Chris considered his highest honor among a slew of academic and athletic accomplishments. 

The Lenzen Legacy

The Lenzen family created a memorial fund in Chris’ name to benefit the Special Olympics Missouri Training for Life Campus, the planned training facility for all SOMO athletes. Hundreds of people made memorial gifts to this fund, totaling nearly $28,000 for the TLC fundraising campaign.

Chris’ legacy lives on with a charity softball tournament launched last summer in St. Louis called “Angels in the Outfield.” The tournament featured a Special Olympics Missouri exhibition game and more than 600 tournament participants. The event also benefited SOMO’s Training for Life Campus.

The SOMO athletes touched by Chris Lenzen and his teammates will forever be grateful for the true friendship Chris showed them. As the SOMO Training for Life Campus takes shape, our athletes will most certainly have another angel in the outfield and on the court. 

Learn about the Angels in the Outfield charity tournament.

Contribute to the Training for Life Campus campaign.

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