On Mats, Bars and Boards, Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci Lead by Example

She was the world's darling in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the Romanian superstar who earned seven perfect tens. He came back from injury in his third Olympic Games to earn two gold medals, including a perfect 10 on the parallel bars, in 1984. Together, Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner are volunteer heroes of the Special Olympics movement.
Bart Conner, center, worked on gymnastics skills with athletes with intellectual disabilities from Special Olympics Great Britain. Photo by Chris Hull


Hannah Westerman, left, a Special Olympics Great Britain gymnast, poses with Nadia Comaneci. Hannah performed twice that day, and Comaneci had just one helpful tip: "Smile a little more. She's doing a wonderful job." Photo by Chris Hull

In a gymnasium in Great Britain, Bart Conner did what he's been doing since 1979: sharing his knowledge of gymnastics at the world champion level with Special Olympics athletes aspiring to do the same.

Using a little nudge to correct a foot, a firm hand to reposition a stance, and an experienced eye to judge what to praise and what to correct, Conner put his decades of experience at the service of the group of young men he was working with.

In another part of the room, Comaneci was doing the same with a group of young women. One of them was Hannah Westerman, who has been chosen to represent Great Britain at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles next July.

Westerman is a ten-time Special Olympics national champion, and she called the chance to work directly with Nadia Comaneci "incredible."


Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci pose with athletes from Special Olympics Great Britain. Photo by Chris Hull

"Nadia was giving me tips on how I can improve and that was amazing," Westerman said. "Nadia and Bart do so much for Special Olympics across the world. They gave me great encouragement in the build up to the World Games in LA next year." 

Comaneci and Conner worked with the athletes from Great Britain for a solid 90 minutes. Having the focused attention of Olympic gold medalists for an hour and a half might be a highlight of any gymnast's career, and it's the kind of volunteer work that both Conner and Comaneci have enjoyed for decades.

The couple married in 1996, and they've taken an active role in philanthropy together. Both are members of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors which gives them a chance to participate in shaping the direction of the Special Olympics movement and to meet and talk to Special Olympics athletes from around the world.

The True Magic of Special Olympics

"As a volunteer for over 35 years, I have seen the true magic of Special Olympics, and how, one athlete at a time, Special Olympics changes perceptions about people with intellectual challenges," Conner said.

Comaneci agreed, saying, “I have always been impressed with the abilities of athletes of Special Olympics. Their determination to overcome their many challenges is truly inspiring."

Video Links

See comments by Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci at the links below.