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!
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
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.
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
June 29, 2015 | North America: Pennsylvania
My life in special olympics
By Jennifer Petersen
I was a teenager when I first started Special Olympics and the state that I started in was Virginia. I always loved doing Special Olympics because I love doing sports with my friends and the coaches are like my family.View Story ▼I was a teenager when I first started Special Olympics and the state that I started in was Virginia. I always loved doing Special Olympics because I love doing sports with my friends and the coaches are like my family. I loved it very much but I had to stop cause I moved, then started back up again for a year in New York. I stopped and
moved to Pennsylvania, then started up again with the
Special Olympics program at school then started up with Monroe County.
I am still with the program since we started it in 1998.
About Jennifer Petersen:I always loved doing Special Olympics ever since I was
a teenager cause I love doing sports with my friends
and the coaches are like my familyView less ▲
June 25, 2015 | North America: Michigan
Basketball and soccer rocks
By Kelly Jacobs
Hi my name is Kelly Jacobs. I'm 40 years old and I am one of the athletes of Special Olympics. I enjoy basketball and soccer.View Story ▼Hi my name is Kelly Jacobs. I'm 40 years old and I am one of the athletes of Special Olympics. I enjoy basketball and soccer. I like basketball because you meet new people and we go up to states in Rockford . The coaches are very cool.
About Kelly Jacobs:I like to read watch movies and hang out with friendsView less ▲
June 23, 2015 | North America: Illinois
Schaumburg Athlete Represents Region on Special Olympics Leadership Committee
By Matthew Williams
Picture of meeting in Los Angeles
My name is Matthew Williams, I am a Global Messenger from Schaumburg. I was selected to serve as a representative to the Great Lakes Region to the North America Athlete Leadership Steering committee.View Story ▼My name is Matthew Williams, I am a Global Messenger from Schaumburg. I was selected to serve as a representative to the Great Lakes Region to the North America Athlete Leadership Steering committee. Our committee met in Los Angeles Feb. 15–17 as part of the Special Olympics U.S. Business Meeting. This meeting is where the CEOs from all the Regions programs met for organizational business and development of the strategic plan. Before arriving numerous conference calls took place to prepare our group of to come up with ideas and priorities for Special Olympics. Our goal was to be more prepared than the CEOs. On the first day of meetings,the athletes discussed each part of strategic plan in depth for 8 long hours. Tuesday we broke up into groups that included CEOs and Board Chairs to discuss the plan. This is where our voices were heard heard and acknowledged to help better Special Olympics around the world for years to come.It was an amazing feeling to know that MY voice has made a difference.
About Matthew Williams :Matthew Williams is a student at Helen Keller Jr. High in Schaumburg, IL, a suburb of Chicago. He became an athlete at age 3 through the Young Athletes program and returned at age 8 to compete in almost all the sports offered that year.
He has taken a leadership role in his local Special Olympics program held through his school district. He has sat on the Youth Activation Committee for 4 years, received the Illinois Chapter/National School Public Relations Association (INSPRA) Award of Excellence 2013, and attended Partners Club working alongside peers with intellectual disabilities, and a Global Messenger for 4 years.
He is excited to share his experiences with Special Olympics and his passion to gain respect and independence. He worked with the elementary school principal to host a Campaign for Respect for people with physical and intellectual disabilities for the entire school.
Being young has not stopped him. Now at the Jr. High grade level he made plans with this principal for View less ▲
June 11, 2015 | North America: Jamaica
Jamaica's Maroons still impressive at 2015 Canada Cup
By Sydney Manyan, Captain
I think that the floorball tournament was a great success for us, in spite of losing three of four matches, we gave everyone a rough time.
This was a completely different team from last year and we played much better.View Story ▼I think that the floorball tournament was a great success for us, in spite of losing three of four matches, we gave everyone a rough time.
This was a completely different team from last year and we played much better in terms of our cooperation and overall skill. The draw in our last Division match was difficult to take as the goal come with hardly any time left. It also meant that going into the knock-out round we would face one of the favourites to win the competition. We were not put off. Unfortunately we lost the match, but gave them a great fight, so much so that they were exhausted going on to the next match.
I believe that we achieved a lot since we don’t have a formal league or indoor facilities and had to pray for the funding. The one point is more than we got last year and I’m sure that next year we’ll get our first win.
On behalf of the entire team I’d like to thank everyone that helped us, family, friends, sponsors, the National Office and the Stadium management, but especially the Europeans who spent six months working with us and Dario for being with us at the tournament.”
About Sydney Manyan, Captain:I've been training with Special Olympics Jamaica since I was very young and have participated in many Sports at World Games. I also play in the local football league.View less ▲
June 08, 2015 | North America: Washington
By Rebekah Jensen
Special olympics helped me get in physical shape, helped me with my social skills, helped me cope with life.View Story ▼I now have 146 total medals since starting with Special Olympics in 1999. I competed in swimming, softball, volleyball, And basketball and won gold medals in each. I am also competing in track and field, bowling, golf, figure skating and speed skating also winning gold medals in each sport. Track and field is my favorite sport, shot put is my favorite event. I have never competed at a national games or a world games, but I would like to. I have competed at state summer games since 1999 for 17 consecutive years, and won a state title at each of the games. One year, I won four gold medals at state games. Special olympics helped me get in physical shape, helped me with my social skills, helped me cope with life. I have autism, ADHD and other issues. But those have been curbed by medications and Special Olympics events. I don't feel so alone in the world anymore.
About Rebekah Jensen :SOWA athlete since 1999 at the south kitsap delegation, and BKAT skating stars teams. SKHS graduate class of 2003 GPA 3.8 on a 4.0 scale. Works at naval base kitsap since 2010 as a galley food service associate since 2010, made employee of the quarter. NJROTC cadet senior chief of wolf company with 21 ribbons, and cadet of the month honors, platoon honor cadet and member of honor platoon in mini boot camp.View less ▲
June 08, 2015 | North America: Arizona
Completing my first half marathon
By Carla Simon
I competed in the 2015 San Diego Rock and Roll 5K and half marathon races. As a Special Olympic athlete I wanted to be able to help show other athletes and coaches and others out there that anything is possible.View Story ▼I competed in the 2015 San Diego Rock and Roll 5K and half marathon races. As a Special Olympic athlete I wanted to be able to help show other athletes and coaches and others out there that anything is possible. At one point I did not think it was as only 2 years ago I was 192 pounds, but with training and eating healthier two years later I completed my first ever half weighing 138 pounds. The experience was awesome. They had people running the half in firefighters gear, people in wheelchairs, 92 year olds running, and in the 5K I ran the day before I ran the half they had a guy running the 5K in a Tom Brady costume. I ended up running the 5K race in 32 minutes a personal best and then the next day I ran the half marathon and ran that race in 2 hours and 51 minutes. Anybody can do it. You can run in bare feet, walk it or roll it. Special Olympics taught me anything was possible, which was why I decided to try it. I ended up bringing home 3 finishers medals, it was a blast.
About Carla Simon :Competed in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in track and field and won 2 silver medals and a gold medal.
Has ran in over 8 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathon races.
Travels around the US to do races.View less ▲
June 08, 2015 | North America: Canada
Special Olympics Changed My Life All Through The Years
By James Therrien
I like doing Special Olympics during the summer and winter times; it made me believe in myself. I like running with the police officers during the torch run every year.View Story ▼I like doing Special Olympics during the summer and winter times; it made me believe in myself. I like running with the police officers during the torch run every year. I am doing the 200-meter run, the running long jump and the shot put in the Special Olympics games every year. I started when I was 6 years old and I have been doing Special Olympics for 27 years now. I will keep on doing Special Olympics for a long time before I retire from it.
About James Therrien:I like to run View less ▲
May 27, 2015 | North America: Massachusetts
i was in the summer of 1975 world games
By Sandra Kryla
my name is Sandra Kryla and i was in Special Olympics from 1972 to 1978 and in that time i went to one world game in 1975. that was the best thing i did in my life and now i would love to be at the end of a race to hug the person come over the finish line.View Story ▼my name is Sandra Kryla and i was in Special Olympics from 1972 to 1978 and in that time i went to one world game in 1975. that was the best thing i did in my life and now i would love to be at the end of a race to hug the person come over the finish line.
About Sandra Kryla:I was one of the Athletes and now i am in college to become a web designer I did graduate from high school in 1981 worked for till 90 went to college till 93 got a Certificate of Early Childhood Education Curriculum I did not go far in this field because I was losing hearing and was yelling all the time at the children was not good for them or me i feel i came this far because of all the great people here thank you allView less ▲
May 25, 2015 | North America: Pennsylvania
Special Olympic Stadium
By Jason Winn
I'm head-injured, but have a very scientific mind. I admire Steven Hawking. I want to build the first Special Olympics STADIUM in the world.View Story ▼I'm head-injured, but have a very scientific mind. I admire Steven Hawking. I want to build the first Special Olympics STADIUM in the world. My girlfriend, my bowling buddies, are all disabled. I think the best of the best should be able to show to the world that we,"the disabled," are as capable as anyone else to do sports, activities and have fun. Why can't we be as awesome as the rest of the world?
Hey, I'm just one person.... but together we... the disabled... can be as athletic, happy, passionate, caring and yes ... smart as everyone else.
Dr. Shriver, let's do this for everyone and anyone who feels out of place or different. I know I've gone through all that stuff before. Some people who helped me were my bowling disabled group. It sucks that we are still categorized as different, or more harsh, the R-word. We know we are better than them, but it still hurts!!!
I think we should have more TV shows, like that show in the 90's, "Good Life." We need to be recognized as people.
About Jason Winn:I'm a head injured man. i have a scientific mind and incredible ideas. aparently, nobody wants to listen except my roomate. we are both head injured. im 42, and want to share my incredible ideas with the rest of the world. it not like people really give a care what i think, except the world of disability. im taking advice from tony robbins and go forward and not backward. i want my thoughts and dreams to come true, so we" the disabled" can be noticed and appreciated by the rest of the world.
i, myself have ao many bussiness ideas and plans. unfortunitly i need help from people who care about the disabled. i blew my counsilors mind when he saw my ideas. he works for the center for independent living in s. centrl p.a...... thank you so much for reading my little story. i hope we can work together to make a better disabled world!!!!!!.... jasView less ▲
May 12, 2015 | North America: Florida
This is my story by Nataly H
By Nataly H
I got involved in Special Olympics Florida thanks to two friends of mine. I am a Special Olympics athlete for Seminole County. I got involved in Special Olympics in the year 2009 and I am still part of Special Olympics Seminole County.View Story ▼My story is not too long so here goes: I got involved in Special Olympics Florida thanks to two friends of mine. I am a Special Olympics athlete for Seminole County. I got involved in Special Olympics in the year 2009 and I am still part of Special Olympics Seminole County. I used to be an assistant coach for volleyball and basketball for 5 years. I have competed in Special Olympics bowling and swimming, and this year I'm hoping to try out for Flag-football. I have made a lot of friends thanks to this program and coached many athletes who have become my friends and had many wonderful coaches and always thank our many volunteers for being there to help. My goal is simple, to inspire others with cerebral palsy to go out and be fit and active and to be brave in the attempt.
About Nataly H:I have CP and enjoy playing sports and making new friends along the way. I love what Special Olympics has done for me for the many years I have been doing it. Thanks for everything that you do and God bless this program. I love it so much! View less ▲
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