Pulse: Gialamas, Teeter Totter Marathon, Thakkar, Beebe, Beerntsen

Alyssa Gialamas, a Waubonsie Valley senior, was recently named the 2014 March of Dimes Inspirational Athlete Award winner.  |  Submitted
The 24-hour Teeter Totter Marathon on Nov. 29 outside the Knights of Columbus facility in Naperville raised more than $1,800.  |  Submitted
Tom Beerntsen, 63, will become the executive director of the Wood Family Foundation, founded by ex-Cub pitcher Kerry Wood and his wife, Sarah, on Nov. 1.  |  Submitted

Naperville Paralympic athlete Alyssa Gialamas continues to make a splash, and it has nothing to do with swimming. The Waubonsie Valley senior recently was named the 2014 March of Dimes Inspirational Athlete Award winner.

“I am thrilled to be named March of Dimes Inspirational Athlete of the Year,” said the 18-year-old, who holds American Paralympic records in 12 events. “It gives me a chance to represent people of all abilities and be an example of what can be achieved. It also gives me an opportunity to inspire other kids to succeed in sports.”

Most recently she took home a bronze medal as part of the 200 medley relay team at the IPC Swimming World Championships in Montreal, Canada.

Gialamas also was one of 34 elite swimmers chosen to represent the U.S. at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. The then-sophomore finished fifth, the top American, in the women’s 200-meter freestyle after breaking the U.S. record by 2 seconds to qualify for finals. She has said she’s looking forward to her next Paralympics bid in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The Inspirational Athlete Award, presented annually by the March of Dimes Greater Chicago Division, honors a young person who has overcome a birth defect or complications related to preterm birth to enjoy, participate and excel in sports and who demonstrates consistently good sportsmanship. Gialamas was born with a congenital condition that affects the joints and muscles. She walks using knee-ankle-foot braces.

Gialamas will be honored alongside top Chicago professional athletes at the March of Dimes Comcast SportsNet Sports Awards on Feb. 10.

For more information, visit

Off balance

Nonstop teetering and tottering for $1,800

Life is full of ups and downs. A group of Naperville teens focused more on the up through a fundraising effort last month.

About 15 teens, all members of the Naperville Columbian Squires Circle 5561, took part in a Teeter Totter Marathon to benefit the McGivney Center of Hope and Healing.

“What I am most proud of is how the boys really took charge of the event,” said Don Rechenmacher, whose son Joe helped organize the fundraiser for the second year. “They managed to have everything ready for the day of the event, including the scheduling to make sure the teeter totter was manned around the clock.”

And it was.

During a 24-hour period, there was nonstop teetering and tottering outside the Knights of Columbus in Naperville, resulting in more than $1,800 raised.

“Worth noting also is how the families of the boys pitched in with their support,” Rechenmacher said. “They continuously stopped by to cheer them on, and brought in desserts and hot chocolate during the event. It is for a very worthwhile cause.”

To learn more about the McGivney Center of Hope and Healing, visit

Blanket donation

Beebe students help Washington

Beebe Elementary School second-grade students have been pretty busy. They plan to make enough blankets for the 575 students in Washington, Ill., and donate them by next week.

The project is being carried out completely by donations. Parents volunteered to cut the material while students are doing all the tying. Anderson’s Bookshop is donating books, which will make the delivery to Washington, Ill., even more special.

Second-grader Owen Tarulis-Morris is just one of many who is working on a blanket for a child he doesn’t know.

“I want to help with the blankets and books so that other kids can have something to read and something to sleep with, snuggle with and play with,” Tarulis-Morris said.

Teacher Sophia Djendi said she couldn’t be more proud of her school.

“It is a huge project that is making such a difference for our kids,” Djendi said. “I am so proud of our entire Beebe community for coming together, (and) a special thanks should go to principal Chuck Freundt for supporting us through these efforts along with the district (office).”

To contribute to this cause, send checks or cash to Beebe Elementary School, 110 E. 11th Ave., Naperville, IL 60563. Checks should be made payable to “Beebe Allied Fund.”

Off the list

Make-A-Wish dream come true

Last week, we featured Ravina Thakkar, 14, of Plainfield, whose novel, “The Adventure of a Lifetime,” recently was released by Naperville-based Sourcebooks.

We’re happy to report that all 80 copies sold out during a book signing Sunday at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville.

Thakkar was 10 when she first told the Make-A-Wish Foundation that she wanted to write a book as her “wish.”

The result is the 128-page paperback that tells the story of a 9-year-old bookworm who gets transported into the world of her favorite fictional character.

The 14-year-old says she’s had a lot of time to read while undergoing three, 90-miunute lung treatments a day for cystic fibrosis.

Sing it: Y-M-C-A

Retiring to Door County

It seems that Naperville mover and shaker Tom Beerntsen just can’t get enough of the YMCA.

The former president and CEO of the Heritage YMCA has just been named the new president and CEO of the Door County YMCA, a position he is scheduled to begin Jan. 6. Beerntsen, 65, said he has maintained a second home in Door County for the past 16 years, and he is looking forward to living and working in his “retirement community.”

“I left the Heritage YMCA in November of 2012 and went to work for the (former Cubs pitcher Kerry) Wood foundation on Nov. 1 until this past summer,” Beerntsen said.

“The gentleman who was running the YMCA in Door County moved to another one in Washington near Seattle, and because I was active here in Wisconsin for years with my family confectionery business in Manitowoc as well as with the YMCA nationally, people knew of me. I still have some energy and feel there is work that needs to be done.”

Beerntsen said he had considered himself retired, and that in the past year, he has visited family more and read 28 books. But the lure of working again with the YMCA brought him back.

“People have said others would ask me how long I planned to stay here doing this again, but I think they’re hoping we’ll just dive in and have some fun and that time will mean nothing,” he said. “Hopefully, I have a few good years left in me.”

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