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Our Athletes

Athletes are the heart of Special Olympics. Our athletes are children and adults with intellectual disabilities from all around the world. They are finding success, joy and friendship as part of our global community. They're also having lots of fun! 

Members of the female football team from SO Bahamas rush in for hugs after a victory

Be a Fan of Joy. Trenice Bell gives a victory hug to Shaniqua Newbold as more teammates rush in to celebrate. The moment came after a Team Bahamas win at the Special Olympics Jamaica Football Invitational Competition.

Who Are Our Athletes?

Everybody is different. Special Olympics is for people who are different because they learn new skills slowly. They may not understand ideas that other people learn easily. They are different in other ways as well. They have an intellectual disability, or ID.

Intellectual disabilities happen in all cultures, races and countries. The goal of Special Olympics is to reach out to the 200 million people in the world with ID.

Our more than 4.4 million Special Olympics athletes – ages 8 years old and up -- come from more than 170 countries. We also have a Young Athletes program for children ages 2 to 7.

At any age and in every country, our athletes are learning new skills, making new friends and gaining in fitness and confidence.


About Intellectual Disability

Special Olympics is a global movement of people who want to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. But what are intellectual disabilities? Learn More

Everyday, Everywhere

Special Olympics trainings and competitions happen 365 days a year in more than 170 countries.

We offer 32 Olympic-style summer and winter sports. So whatever your age or skill level, Special Olympics has something for you. Many athletes start in one sport, then go on to try others.

Through sports, our athletes are seeing themselves for their abilities, not disabilities. Their world is opened with acceptance and understanding.They become confident and empowered by their accomplishments. They are also making new friends, as part of the most inclusive community on the planet -- a global community that is growing every day.

Abdel-Raman Hassan is an athlete whose life changed after he joined Special Olympics. He's a swimmer with ID from Saudi Arabia. He is also partially paralyzed. Yet he doesn't let anything -- or anyone -- put limits on his abilities.  

His talent for swimming did not come naturally or easily. Abdel-Raman's father says it took him a month to hold his breath underwater for three seconds. It took him a year to swim a distance of one meter. He did not give up. Abdel-Raman went on to win gold medals in 25- and 50-meter races at World Summer Games. He is a champion.


Not Alone

What is it like having ID? David Egan of Virginia says it can be difficult, but that joining Special Olympics helped him a lot. “It was hard for me to accept the fact that I have Down syndrome. But it became easier when I joined Special Olympics and I discovered that I was not alone.”

Over the years, David has taken part in soccer (football), basketball, ice skating, softball and swimming. He says the confidence he built through Special Olympics has helped him find and keep a job for the last 15 years.

From Athletes to Leaders

Through sports training and competitions, Special Olympics helps people with ID find joy, acceptance and success. As their lives open up, athletes gain the confidence that comes with achievement. They feel empowered. They are ready to take on new challenges to make use of their new abilities.

They can become mentors for other athletes. They can train to become coaches and officials. They can also move toward a more public role as a speaker or spokesperson. They can speak to audiences and journalists about the positive changes that Special Olympics helped bring about in their lives. (Read more about our International Global Messengers from around the world here.)

At Special Olympics, our athletes are empowered to share their many gifts and talents with society. Yet, it's more than that. Our athletes also become empowered to be leaders in society -- and teach us all about acceptance and understanding. (Learn more about Special Olympics Athlete Leadership programs here.)

Stories Written by Special Olympics Athletes


January 19, 2015 | North America: Utah

Cousin WIll

By Katie Morrison

Why do you have to say the R-word? Is it kind? Do you even know that you are saying it? Think before you say, mostly saying the R-Word because that hurts people's feelings.View Story My cousin Will cant straighten his legs all the way, and he cant run or walk that fast either. My little cousins always run around and play, while he tries to play and do what they are doing. I love him with all my heart, and I dont understand what the R-word even means. People walk by people and say that word right in front of them, and never think before they speak. Will is a normal little boy doing what everyone else likes to do, and he can even be better than us! He is normal. Why do you have to say the R-word? Is it kind? Do you even know that you are saying it? Think before you say, mostly saying the R-Word because that hurts people's feelings. I don't understand how people can say what they want and laugh, and when people say stuff to them they get all mad and up in their face. It's not, nice is it!? Thinking before you say something is the nicest option ever! Be kind, and think what if that was me?!

About Katie Morrison:I love to dance, and help out the community! I'm Mormon and I love my cousin!
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January 15, 2015 | Asia Pacific: Australia

My Experience

By Frances Joynt

I joined up with Special Olympics Victoria in 1999 at the recommendation of another athlete and I am so glad I did, I love swimming and I never thought that I could do swimming as a sport, but being part of this unique program has been amazing.View Story I joined up with Special Olympics Victoria in 1999 at the recommendation of another athlete and I am so glad I did, I love swimming and I never thought that I could do swimming as a sport, but being part of this unique program has been amazing. I have excelled in many competitions and races, I have been to the ACT, Adelaide, Canberra and also participated in the National games here in Melbourne, in Albert Park 2014. As of last year ( 2014 ) I was also part of the Athletes Leadership Program, encouraging other people with intellectual disabilities to join up, become athletes, volunteers or coaches, I have graduated from a weekend course on this and now I am a spokesperson or Ambassador for Special Olympics. I thoroughly enjoy getting to know the people in my region and in other regions too, I love the experiences I have with other fellow athletes, Coaches, volunteers and families. I would definitely like to encourage others to take up this opportunity to beome a part of SpecialOlympics.

About Frances Joynt:Hello everyone, My name is Frances Joynt, but you can call me Francesca. I grew up in Camberwell but moved to Wattle Glen, and then from there to Watsonia. I am currently a student at TAFE doing a second year doing Certificate 1 in Work education, and I am also trying to find work at the same time, hopefully in office work but before I do that I need to find part time work doing something else to pass the time so I can start saving up my money for other important things. I am a member of Watermarc Leisure centre in Greensborough and go to church at All Saints Anglican church regularly, I take part in services and help with the tea and coffee afterwards. I follow the Melbourne Demons footy club but i'm not a member as yet. My favourite singer of all time is Guy Sebastian because I love his singing and his music, and I would really like to meet him some day.
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January 15, 2015 | North America: Georgia

Living with mental disability

By Greg Kerwin

I was teased a lot in school and was called the r-word all the time because of my mental disabilities which are too many to name. I used to think it was just a word. But this word hurts. My girlfriend has Down syndrome and she's beautiful.View Story I was teased a lot in school and was called the r-word all the time because of my mental disabilities which are too many to name. I used to think it was just a word. But this word hurts. My girlfriend has Down syndrome and she's beautiful.

About Greg Kerwin :This is my third year doing Special Olympics Bowling. I have a silver and Bronze medal. My girlfriend Brittany who has Down Syndrome is a three time gold medalist and one time Bronze.
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January 08, 2015 | North America: New York

My caring Family

By lillian chaparro

I'm going to get involved with Special Olympics more often and motivate myself and show my family what I can do and make them proud!! I'm very happy that I have a loving family that supports me in everything I do.View Story My family is very good to me.They mean a lot to me despite my having a disability. My family knows I'm involved in sports in Special Olympics. I love my family very much. They're very supportive and do the best they can when I need them. My mother takes care of me and she gives me some advice when I'm feeling down. She would tell me what I should do when things don't go well for me. I'm going to get involved with Special Olympics more often and motivate myself and show my family what I can do and make them proud!! I'm very happy that I have a loving family that supports me in everything I do! I love you!!

About lillian chaparro:I'm a medalist in bowling and a friendly person.
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January 08, 2015 | Why I Support Special Olympics

Napa grabs gold in Marin Games

By Jessica Peters

About 12 years ago I joined the Napa Valley Special Olympics when Cross country was offered. However,my county has seen many changes, but track and field hopefully will be here to stay.View Story About 12 years ago I joined the Napa Valley Special Olympics when Cross country was offered. However,my county has seen many changes, but track and field hopefully will be here to stay. My coach Nancy ofered me a spot on the team going to Marin Games. A few weeks later, the team show up to River park shopping center, all pumped up at 6:30 a m. An hour later, everone arrived in San Rafael to compete. The volunteers called our race shortly after opening ceremonies. I sat there waiting for my name to be called. Finley, I look up at at the volunteer, who asked for a"Jessica". My reply was "yes, ma'm". Well, I took to the track and managed to win three consecutive gold medals. Even though, it was hot out, I still medaled. The bottom line is that I was very brave in the attempt. In spite of my Aspberger's and the heat, I managed to thank the line judge and shake his hand. That too some courage. After all of the thank yous were said, I got some lunch, and left the Marin games with a smile.

About Jessica Peters:Hi, grew up in Notheren California and attended public schools in Napa. I was about 26 when I first started to compete at the local and state level. My resume consisted of Swimming, Boceeball, track, and Bowling. I never thought that one day, I'd be able to compete. Off of the track, alley, and court, I'm busey with Aldea Supportive living serives acticvities as well as an active member of the Bay area Turner's Syndrome socoiety. However, the sticking point was getting me into the North Bay Regoinal Center as a Consumer was my diagnoses asbpberger's Syndrome. These days I filled with enthousiasim when it comes to sports. Also, I'm a small part of a socoial nights group ment for Special needs adults, which meets on Friday nights. as well as New Horizons which meets on Saturday nights. Outside of my extras, I work at Lixit incorpereed as well as Vine Village arts as a client. It's safe to say that I'm one byesy person. Also, on a spiritual note, I'm a part of the Devlopment
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December 31, 2014 | Why I Support Special Olympics

Life Changing

By Emily Walzak

Special Olympics has changed my life. This is my 3rd season in figure skating and I can't say enough good things about what Special Olympics has done for me.View Story Special Olympics has changed my life. This is my 3rd season in figure skating and I can't say enough good things about what Special Olympics has done for me. They've given me the chance to train and compete and live out my dreams and passion of figure skating. My coaches have been amazing in helping me be the best skater I can be; and making my dreams come true. They've coached me to 2 Regional championships, where I got the silver medal; and in February 2015; I will be traveling to Kamloops British Columbia for the Special Olympics BC Winter Games; and then on to Prince George for the Canada Winter Games. I never thought I would make the Provincial Team but with a lot of hard work, determination, and the support of my coaches and family; it became possible. My next dream is to make the National and World Teams. I've learned a lot from Special O about how to be an athlete, to train, be healthy, and most of all; to not give up on your passion and dreams!

About Emily Walzak:24 year old figure skater for Special Olympics who competes for Team British Columbia.
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December 24, 2014 | North America: Pennsylvania

A Great Year with Special Olympics!

By Lisa Barbour

Special Olympics Pennsylvania 2nd Annual Athlete Congress

This year, I got to see my brother, Jimmy and some of my friends compete at USA National Games. I attended the first session of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Athlete Leadership Program University.View Story This year, I got to see my brother, Jimmy and some of my friends compete at USA National Games. I attended the first session of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Athlete Leadership Program University. I got trained to be an Athlete Representative for Special Olympics Philadelphia. I represented Philadelphia at the Special Olympics PA 2nd Annual Athlete Congress. I also, got to help plan it. I also, got to help plan Special Olympics PA Fall Festival at Villanova University. It was amazing to help to plan an entire tournament. Recently, I attended a Special Olympics Philadelphia fundraiser. It was so much fun and we raised twenty thousand dollars for our program. The most amazing thing happened. In the raffle, the girl that won the Frozen on Ice tickets traded me for my Sixers tickets. I didn't even know her. I am so happy. That is the power of Special Olympics. It is my life and my passion. Special Olympics will change the life of anyone.

About Lisa Barbour :I am Lisa Barbour is a Special Olympics athlete of 26 years. I am also, an Athlete Representative and Global Messenger.
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December 12, 2014 | Africa: Kenya

Inclusion and Acceptance

By Jeff Bisley

My self making a block (bib no.7)

My life has changed since I joined Special Olympics Kenya, I appreciate the way the coaches dedicate themselves in giving us consistent training.View Story My life has changed since I joined Special Olympics Kenya, I appreciate the way the coaches dedicate themselves in giving us consistent training. When my coach invited us to play Unified beach volleyball I thought that it would be very difficult to have a meaningful experience since the unified partners would be highly skilled than us. But over time I have I began to see that we were all learning from our coach and also helping each other in training. Training and competing with the unified partners has given me a lot of confidence both on and out of the field. I don't fear interacting with my peers without intellectual disabilities any more. I thank Special Olympics for promoting inclusion,slowly everybody will be able to understand us and include us in their day to day life.

About Jeff Bisley:I am 20 years and play volleyball as well middle and long distance track events.
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December 12, 2014 | North America: Ohio

Sharing Experiences Can Spread Awareness

By Morgan Leach

I'm a student at the University of Mount Union and in one of my classes one of my friends gave a speech about how she works with people with disabilities at her church. She gave a few stories about them and how much they have changed her life and it was so inspiring.View Story I'm a student at the University of Mount Union and in one of my classes one of my friends gave a speech about how she works with people with disabilities at her church. She gave a few stories about them and how much they have changed her life and it was so inspiring. At the end of the presentation she mentioned r-word.org and I knew I had to pledge. I never liked the r-word it is a very unnecessary word to use regardless of the circumstance. I'm very happy that I took the pledge today and that something such as this is raising awareness.

About Morgan Leach:I am on the track team at the University of Mount Union, also in color guard and I am an active sister in the sorority Delta Sigma Tau. One day I will love to work with Special Olympics.
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December 12, 2014 | North America: New York

My story

By Katy Sanchez

My name is Katy Sanchez , I am a Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger. The sports I participate in are soccer, golf, floor hockey, basketball, track and field, cycling and triathlons. I started Special Olympics in 2007.View Story My name is Katy Sanchez , I am a Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger. The sports I participate in are soccer, golf, floor hockey, basketball, track and field, cycling and triathlons. I started Special Olympics in 2007. I started with basketball, I fit in right away and start playing and I said to my parents I want to join the Special Olympics and they went for it because they want me to happy and the rest is history! I enjoy spreading the word about Special Olympics. I like to talk about Special Olympics because it's a wonderful cause. I get to talk about my experiences. I also like to get people to change their hearts and minds about seeing us with disabilities and to see the challenges we face everyday. In Special Olympics we show them our abilities! Here is my quote about Special Olympics "Never look back. Always look forward to your future and what it will bring to you. We are here to make a difference in the lives of others. Chose to be inspired by acts of others."

About Katy Sanchez :People say I inspire other people! I have overcome in my life within the last year but Special Olympics has been there for me!
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Special Olympics Blog

Sport and Tech Team Up for Good

Now, thanks to Microsoft, athletes, coaches and families will have rapid access to useful information about their scores, times, personal bests, fitness and health. Special Olympics can use this capability to dramatically improve the lives of people in our Movement.  read more »

Posted on 2014-10-27 by Janet

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