Our Families

Families are the No. 1 fans of our Special Olympics athletes. They give the type of love, support and encouragement that no one else can. Special Olympics is a support network that brings families together in a caring, positive way -- and that makes the cheers for our athletes even louder.

A mom gives a hug to two happy athletes at once

Smiles All Around. A mom gives a hug to two Special Olympics athletes at once.

Among Friends

At Special Olympics competitions and events, family members are among friends – and feel at home. They watch with pride as their child, sibling, cousin, grandchild, aunt or uncle find success and joy.

They are also among people who really understand. Because even family members can be unaware of all that their child or relative with an intellectual disability can do.

A mother in Great Britain says families are part of the team -- working together to make it all happen. "Everyone in the programme accepts each other without question. Everyone works as a team supporting each other." She says her son has made great strides since joining Special Olympics. "I know this has meant a great deal to him and, as a mum, to watch Jamie achieve and believe in himself is just wonderful." 


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

Building Communities

Many family members become spokespeople or volunteers, coaches, fund-raisers and officials – giving them an important voice in Special Olympics.

Families are also an essential link to the community and wider support for our movement. By joining the Family Support Network, becoming a volunteer, and leading the expansion of Young Athletes, Special Olympics family members can really make a difference.

Families build communities by volunteering at athletic trainings, sharing links and information, talking online via a global network and serving in leadership roles. For every family member who gets involved, Special Olympics has a reason to celebrate.


Stories About Our Families


July 21, 2014 | North America: Tennessee

Special Olympics changed a life!

By Betsy Gentry

On the way home from the Special Olympics Games,Bryan Gentry kept talking about how he loved working with the Special Olympic athletes. He had tasted something far more rewarding than the thrill of victory.View Story Special Olympics changed Bryan Gentry's life! In 1999 Bryan’s daughter, Brooke, was a senior in high school working as a peer tutor in a special education class at Bradley Central High School, Cleveland, Tennessee. Brooke was planning her future and helping special needs students was her passion. She also loved working with the Special Olympics. One day Brooke received a brochure regarding the International Special Olympics Games being held at Raleigh, North Carolina, close to Bryan’s hometown. The family decided to take our family vacation and be volunteers at Special Olympics Games. Brooke played tennis so the family signed up to work the tennis venue in North Carolina. When they arrived at the tennis courts, Brooke was assigned to work with the players and assigned Bryan and Betsy to help with parking. After about 15 minutes working in the parking lot, Bryan said, ‘I do not want to be with cars. I want to be with people.’ So he ran and jumped on the tennis court with Brooke and started helping her. On the way home he kept talking about how he loved working with the Special Olympic athletes! People had asked him is this your job? Bryan said, ‘No. I’m in the business world.” He had tasted something far more rewarding than the thrill of victory, Bryan found himself drawn to a lifestyle of sacrifice unlike anything he ever experienced in all his years as a businessman. When the family returned home, Bryan made a life changing decision. He quit the business world and began working with special needs students. First as a social worker, then principal of a private school for adults with disabilities and after retirement he founded, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, a recreational activity for adults with disabilities. Bryan wanted to provide his extended family with a social outlet on Friday nights, which was as much about showing love as it was about filling a need.

About Betsy Gentry:Betsy Gentry supervises special education student teachers at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. She is a retired Work-based Learning Coordinator for Ooltewah High School in Ooltewah, Tennessee and a past Transition Coordinator for the Bradley County Schools in Cleveland, TN, and a Vocational Rehabilitation Case Manager. She has worked with the Project Discovery curriculum both in implementing it with students with special needs at the local level and in training schools and districts nationwide on its use for nearly ten years. As a past Tennessee Council for Exceptional Children Special Educator of the Year, Mrs. Gentry is an expert on transition issues and a frequent state and national speaker.
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July 17, 2014 | North America: Maryland

Interest, Inspiration and Education

By Laura Russell

Adam wins gold with support of Eunice and family.

Adam has always been enthralled by history, the origins of things... organizations, TV shows. When the Kennedy-Shriver family showed up at a local high school track and field event, he was overjoyed.View Story Adam has always been enthralled by history, the origins or things... organizations, TV shows. It has been a kind of focus for his autism. Having recently (when he was 10) joined Special Olympics soccer and basketball teams he was especially interested in learning about the history of that organization. He wanted to know who started it, when, why. So when the Kennedy-Shriver family showed up at a local high school track and field event he was overjoyed. They were kind enough to allow for photos and Eunice shared a few words encouragement. I'm not sure if that is why he won gold in his bocce tournament that day but was memorable and inspiring. A few years later Adam was invited to the family home in Bethesda to demonstrate level 1 golf. The occasion was a gathering of Special Olympics International leaders. It was a thrill to be able to participate in this event and at the home where Special Olympics got its start. Adam is 24 and an active participant of Special Olympics.

About Laura Russell:Being a parent of a child with autism allows for an interesting life journey. Special Olympics has provided a structure for fun, healthy activities, fellowship, and acceptance. Our family will be forever grateful to Eunice for her development and oversight of this life enriching program.
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July 17, 2014 | North America: Connecticut

30+ years with Special Olympics

By LARRY ZALESKI

Kristen Zaleski, Milford Operation Mainstream (CT) with Eunice Shriver, CT Summer Games, 1989

Our family has been involved with Special Olympics since the early 80's. Kristen started out in track and field, switched to aquatics around '94.View Story Our family has been involved with Special Olympics since the early 80's. Kristen started out in track and field, switched to aquatics around '94. I began coaching soon after, am now lifetime certified aquatics coach. Kris also curls with the Connecticut program since its inception 5 years ago, and is a full member at the Nutmeg Curling Club in regular league play.

About LARRY ZALESKI:I am a special parent, certified aquatics coach, local coordinator in the Milford CT program.
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July 12, 2014 | North America: Illinois

Mrs. Shriver was one classy lady

By Sarah Adams

I had the supreme honor of having the opportunity to chat with Mrs. Shriver years ago when she made a presentation at Holy Family Church in Chicago. There was a reception afterwards and I went up and thanked her for having started Special Olympics.View Story I had the supreme honor of having the opportunity to chat with Mrs. Shriver years ago when she made a presentation at Holy Family Church in Chicago. There was a reception afterwards and I went up and thanked her for having started Special Olympics. I explained I have both a brother and son who participate in Special Olympics in IL. She then started quizzing me on how things worked in IL, she wanted to make sure that the heats grouped those of similar abilities together so participants were able to feel good about themselves and about competing. I assured her not only was that accomplished but family members also felt enriched by the experience. She said thank you so much dear, it is meaningful to me to know that. She would have chatted longer but the priest that had accompanied her literally dragged her away. It was obvious she cared so much about everyone involved in Special Olympics.

About Sarah Adams:I am the parent of a 28 year old autistic young man who began participating in Special Olympics at the age of 9. I am also the guardian of my 57 year old brother who resides in a hone for the developmentally disabled in Springfield IL.
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July 12, 2014 | North America: Indiana

Stephen meeting Eunice Kennedy Shriver

By Julie Ratcliff

Stephen and Terri meeting Mrs. Shriver

We are from Indiana, my son was picked to go to the first National Special Olympics held in Ames, Iowa, where our son got to meet Eunice Kennedy Shriver in person.View Story We are from Indiana, my son was picked to go to the first National Special Olympics held in Ames, Iowa. He got to participate in MATP. My husband and I were sitting in the stadium for opening ceremonies, Mrs. Shriver was introduced, and the crowd waited. I believe she was introduced 3 times before she finally made her entrance. Later I found out why they had to keep introducing her, she was outside meeting and talking with the athletes. I was amazed that she would take the time to do that knowing so many people were waiting inside for her. I was shocked and thrilled to find out my son was one of the athletes that got to meet and speak with this incredible lady. Lucky for us someone was right there with a camera. What a great way to start a week of memories. We are so thankful for the opportunities that Special Olympics has given my son. And for one brief moment my son got to meet the woman responsible for greatness!

About Julie Ratcliff:I am your typical Midwesterner. I am a wife, mother, and recently a grandmother. I have met some amazing and inspiring people thru Special Olympics. I want what most people want, for their child to be accepted for who they are. I want to focus on the ability not the disability.
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July 10, 2014 | North America: Maryland

The Importance of Mrs. Shriver!!!

By Cathi Holibaugh

Many years ago my daughter was competing in Summer Games at the University of Maryland for aquatics. I was sitting in the stands with the athletes waiting for them to be staged when I saw Mrs. Shriver.View Story Many years ago my daughter was competing in Summer Games at the University of Maryland for aquatics. I was sitting in the stands with the athletes waiting for them to be staged when I saw Mrs. Shriver across the pool greeting the swimmers as the completed their races. I looked at the athletes and said, "Do you see that beautiful women in the yellow pants? She is the reason you are here today!" No reply. "Ok her daughter is on TV. She is Maria Shriver!" No reply. "OK her son in law is in the movies...he's the Terminator!" All of a sudden they got so excited about seeing her!! I had the honor of meeting Mrs. Shriver in the hallway afterwards and told her the story. Her reply with a big smile on her face was, "I really am important aren't I?" We both laughed and I hugged her and thanked her for all she has done for my daughter and all the athletes!!! It was a special day!

About Cathi Holibaugh:My daughter, Tammy has had the honor of being a Special Olympic athlete for 19 years. I volunteer and coach bowling or our county.
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July 08, 2014 | North America: Virginia

The R-word makes me cringe.

By David Michael Bowen

I disgusts me to hear people flippantly using the r-word in their everyday comments. At my job, where I began working two and a half years ago, I swear I heard the word at least 5 times every day.View Story I disgusts me to hear people flippantly using the r-word in their everyday comments. At my job, where I began working two and a half years ago, I swear I heard the word at least 5 times every day. Although I am a reserved person, I finally spoke up, said something to management about the way I cringe inside every time I hear it. Now, everyone knows not to use that word in my presence. And when they still slip and let it go, I give a glare, and sometimes they apologize. People need to realize how ignorant they appear when they use the word to describe what they feel is something or someone who is less than everything or everyone else. I have often imagined that the next time I hear the word at work, I will ask the speaker if the person he is referring to might also be a n____ or a f__ to see the reaction I would get. I know that person would think it racist and derogatory for me to say such a thing and give me "a look"; at which point I would simply give a look right back.

About David Michael Bowen:I have four lovely kids from 15 to 22 years old. It is truly amazing how different siblings can be. I love them all equally.
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Special Olympics Blog

Bursting with Pride

"I’m looking forward to the day when Mary will become a Special Olympics Young Athlete. I cannot wait."read more »

Posted on 2014-07-25 by Ryan

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