Having fun, developing skills and building self-esteem, all while participating in year-round sports training and competition is the life of a Special Olympics athlete. Whatever their age or skill level, with 30-plus sports to choose from, Special Olympics has something for every person with an intellectual disability.

Champions in the Making

United In Sport. Special Olympics Athlete Miran Brejc of Slovenia played with celebrities and star footballers in the Unity Cup in South Africa, an event that highlighted Special Olympics' drive to foster acceptance and understanding of people with intellectual disabilities. Learn more about the Unity Cup

Special Olympics athletes are the heart of our movement. Special Olympics practices and competitions happen 365 days a year in more almost 180 countries. With the opportunities to excel and have fun come the associated benefits of improved health and self-image. 

Abdel-Rahman Hassan is one example of a Special Olympics athlete who was transformed by his experience. A swimmer with an intellectual disability from Saudi Arabia, he also is partially paralyzed – but at the 2007 Summer World Games in China, Abdel-Rahman won gold medals in 25- and 50-meter races. His talent did not come naturally or easily; his father says it took him a month to hold his breath underwater for three seconds, and a year to swim a distance of one meter. Today, he is a champion.

Different Lands, a Common Concern

Different Is Good. This video captures the feeling of being a Special Olympics athlete.

Florence Nabayinda of Uganda, Ephraim Mohlokane of South Africa, and Rita Lawlor of Ireland are also Special Olympics athletes. They come from different countries and faced different challenges in life. The one thing they all had in common before Special Olympics was that they were underestimated in their communities because of their intellectual disabilities.

Today, they run, play football, compete in gymnastics and coach other Special Olympics athletes. They work and play alongside people without intellectual disabilities. They speak out to journalists, schools and civic groups about the remarkable changes Special Olympics helped bring about in their lives. They are valued leaders within the Special Olympics movement and valued members of their own communities outside of it. Their lives are fuller and more enriched thanks to Special Olympics.

All Are Welcome, All Grow.

Some Special Olympics athletes have physical challenges like Abdel-Rahman. Others, like Billy Quick from North Carolina, USA, compete alongside the world’s best athletes and run marathons. Though ability level varies, everyone is welcome, and all grow, building athletic skills and character traits that help both on and off the field of competition. Confidence, self-esteem, teamwork are just some of the benefits of involvement in sports. For many athletes, Special Olympics is a path to empowerment, competence, acceptance, joy and friendship.

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