Skip to main content

Take Life by the Reins: Jane Vermeulen’s Joy in the Journey 

Jane “Janey” Vermeulen at the 2018 State Summer Games

Jane “Janey” Vermeulen lived her life to the fullest while inspiring others to pursue their own best quality of life, regardless of limitations.

Living large was a personality trait that came naturally to the Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) athlete and was undeniably infectious. “She just lived it,” said Angela Martin, Senior Associate Director at the Michigan Development Disabilities Institute (MI-DDI) at Wayne State University, warmly remembering Janey who passed away unexpectedly in 2022. “She made me want to be more of a life-living person who loved the moment.”

In her more than 30 years with SOMI, Janey did it all – and more. An 11-sport athlete, her favorites included swimming, basketball, and poly hockey. It didn’t matter if it was a weekly practice or a state tournament, regardless of her proficiency, Janey always brought passion.

“She didn’t care if she played a few minutes or the whole game, she just wanted to do it. She just loved team sports,” explained Sue Campbell, Wayne County Area Director for Special Olympics Michigan. “She loved mentoring the younger athletes and showing them the ropes.”

Outside of sports, Janey was a dedicated public servant, committed to a life of advocacy. One of her proudest accomplishments was serving as a peer mentor on the advisory council for the MI-DDI at Wayne State University.

“She wanted to make sure others could have a life like the one she was able to live,” said Martin. “When I first met Janey, she said to me ‘I can be so much more if my supports are put in place in a way that I can live in my community, be a valued member, and be connected to my friends and family.’ Hearing those words, changed my approach to the disability community.”

In the months following Janey’s passing, MI-DDI established the Jane Vermeulen Leadership Award. The award will be presented annually to a person with a disability who exhibits leadership in their local and/or disability community. Janey herself, was the first recipient of the award, posthumously. 

​   ​

In late 2023, the Jane Vermeulen Leadership Award was presented to Alex Kimmel – another Special Olympics Michigan athlete. Known fondly as “The Self Determinator,” Kimmel is a speaker, trainer, and advocate for himself and others in the disability community. His core philosophies include supporting inclusion, celebrating neurodiversity, self-determination as a basic human right, and having no limits on one’s life regardless of disability.

Seeing Janey’s legacy live on through another athlete was a proud moment for Sue Campbell, Janey’s former mentor. “She took life by the reins,” Campbell said, summing up Janey’s undeniable spirit. Now, even in her death, Janey and the assistance of her scholarship are inspiring others to do the same.

MI-DDI’s mission is to contribute to the development of inclusive communities and quality of life for people with disabilities and their families through a culturally sensitive statewide program of training and education, community support and services, research, and information development and sharing.

To learn more about the Jane Vermeulen Award, contact MI-DDI Senior Associate Director Angela Martin at or 313- 577-2654 or visit