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Special Olympics Mission

The power of sport to change lives is clear in the joy visible on the face of Matthias Puetz of Germany after his snowboarding performance during the 2013 World Winter Games in Korea. Photo by Diego Azubel

The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

230 x 300 Snowshoeing in Korea

Snowshoeing gold medalist Carmen Rosa Garcia of Bolivia at the 2013 World Winter Games. Photo: Diego Azubel

46 Years of Empowerment

The Special Olympics mission remains as vital today as it did when the movement was founded in 1968. Special Olympics strives to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people. 

Through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success. Our athletes find joy, confidence and fulfillment -- on the playing field and in life. They also inspire people in their communities and elsewhere to open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential.

There are about 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world. Our goal is to reach out to every one of them – and their families as well. Special Olympics does this through a wide range of trainings, competitions, health screenings and fund-raising events. We also create opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to band together to change attitudes and support athletes.


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

The Power to Transform Lives

The transformative power of sports to instill confidence, improve health and inspire a sense of competition is at the core of what Special Olympics does. From the detailed coaching guides we provide in many languages to the sharp-eyed officials at our international games, the focus is on real sports, real competition, real achievements.

In Special Olympics, the power and joy of sport, shifts focus to what our athletes CAN do, not what they can't. Attention to disabilities fades away. Instead, we see our athletes' talents and abilities -- and applaud them for all that they can do. And they are doing a lot -- from gymnastics to soccer to open-water swimming. With our 32 Olympic-style sports, we offer adults and children with intellectual disabilities many ways to be involved in their communities, many ways to show who they really are.  


Stories about the Power of Special Olympics


May 14, 2015 | Africa: Senegal

Senegal hosts Inaugural National Conference on Intellectual Disability

By Annemarie Hill

In honor of the International Day of Disability, Special Olympics Senegal, under the patronage of the Ministry of Health and Social Action, and supported by UNICEF Senegal, hosted the inaugural "National Conference on Intellectual Disability" in Dakar.View Story In December 2014, in honor of the International Day of Disability, Special Olympics Senegal, under the patronage of the Ministry of Health and Social Action, and supported by UNICEF Senegal, hosted the inaugural "National Conference on Intellectual Disability" in Dakar. The event was presided over by the Senegalese Minster of Health and Social Action, The Honorable Professor Awa Marie Coll-Seck, and 150 delegates including representatives from several Senegalese Ministries as well as UNICEF, African Disability Alliance, American and Dutch Embassies, British Council, and many more. A highlight of the conference was the signing of the first Memorandum of Understanding between Special Olympics Senegal and the Ministry of Health and Social Action, aiming to increase access to health care services for individuals with intellectual disabilities through health screening programming, health education opportunities, capacity building and training of health care providers and much more.

About Annemarie Hill:I am the Director for Global Development and Government Relations at Special Olympics.
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May 14, 2015 | Africa: Kenya

Catholic Relief Services Awards Grant to Kenya

By Annemarie Hill

Global partner Catholic Relief Services has recently awarded Special Olympics Kenya a grant to support early childhood development for children with intellectual disabilities. The grant will afford Community Health Workers a chance to be trained on the Special Olympics Young Athletes program.View Story Global partner Catholic Relief Services has recently awarded Special Olympics Kenya a grant to support early childhood development for children with intellectual disabilities (ID). The grant will afford Community Health Workers a chance to be trained on the Special Olympics Young Athletes program. which is for youngsters 2 to 7 years old. The community health workers will be provided courses on the importance of play, motor activities etc. for this population. The project commits Special Olympics Kenya to engaging 100 children with ID into early childhood development work in the Kawangware informal settlement, a densely populated informal settlement to the west of Nairobi. This grant forms part of the larger CRS program called THRIVE, which is an early childhood development program funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, whose goal is to enable children under 5 years to thrive under a sustainable culture of care and support. The THRIVE project is an effort to level the playing field for children affected by HIV through targeted interventions and, through this project, will now be inclusive of children with ID.

About Annemarie Hill:I am the Director for Global Development and Government Relations at Special Olympics.
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May 12, 2015 | Middle East North Africa: Egypt

Athlete's Wish Leads to a National Surprise

By Noha Gaballah

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi posed with Special Olympics athletes before the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics Middle East North Africa Regional Games.

On the evening before the opening ceremony for the Middle East-North Africa Regional Games, a Special Olympics basketball player named Abdel Menam Saad El Deen was asked about his hopes and dreams. Menam said he wanted to meet the president of Egypt. To everyone’s surprise, a phone call came in minutes later from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.View Story On the evening before the opening ceremony for the big Middle East-North Africa Regional Games, a Special Olympics basketball player named Abdel Menam Saad El Deen was asked about his hopes and dreams. The question came on a TV program called Cairo 360. Menam said he wanted to meet the president of Egypt, and he added that he would invite the president to the opening ceremony. To everyone’s surprise, a phone call came in minutes later from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. He told Menam he heard his kind invitation. The next day, President El Sisi stunned all the attendees with his presence and kicked off the start of the 8th Special Olympics MENA Regional Games in Cairo. It was a major boost for Special Olympics in the whole region. The games ran from 5 to 11 December 2014. After accepting the invitation, El Sisi hailed and praised the athletes for overcoming all the obstacles they face with love, kindness and dignity. He also thanked the thousands of people attending the opening ceremony in the Air Defense stadium in Cairo and gave a heartfelt speech to all the Special Olympics athletes, their families and the people from each participating country. In his speech, he said, “I’m happy and proud to be among you and will certainly continue to support you forever to end the injustice and intolerance as you have equal rights that should be taken care of as anyone in the society.” He also he announced the construction of four new cities in Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia and Giza especially for the people with intellectual disabilities. Afterward, Ayman Abdel Wahab, who is president and managing director of the Middle East-North Africa Region for Special Olympics, expressed his extreme gratitude to the Egyptian president for his help in making the Games a success. On another positive note, Wahab also added that the attendance of President El-Sisi signifies the beginning of a new era of attention and care given to people with intellectual disabilities, not only in Egypt, but in the whole region.

About Noha Gaballah:I am a staff writer for Special Olympics in the Middle East-North Africa office in Cairo, Egypt.
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May 12, 2015 | North America: Southern California

Regrets

By Sami Turnbull

My son the advocate.

One of my goals as a parent is to teach my children to live life with no regrets. There are no do overs only second chances. I am taking my second chance and trying to make up for the lack of compassion and jokes I have made going all the way into my 20's. How many parents or family members heardView Story One of my goals as a parent is to teach my children to live life with no regrets. There are no do-overs, only second chances. I am taking my second chance and trying to make up for the lack of compassion and jokes I have made going all the way into my 20's. How many parents or family members heard one of my jokes that had a friend, child, parent with special needs? I am sure I have hurt people by jokes I have made. How do I know? I have an 11-year-old daughter who is Intellectually Disabled and every time I hear the "Retarded" word used as a slur it rips my gut out. My daughter is better than what they are calling "retarded." Like I said, I could never redo what I have done in the past but I can make up for the future by teaching my children my mistakes and helping others understand the debt of the hurt it causes when used.

About Sami Turnbull:I am the mother to two beautiful children. My daughter, Emma, is 11 and was diagnosed as Intellectually Disabled about 3 years ago. My son, Tyler, is 10 and is Emma's biggest advocate.
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May 12, 2015 | North America: Missouri

The Power of the R-Word

By Taylor

In day to day life, using the r-word is something that you use without thought. By using it to describe an outfit, stranger, or friend I never knew how much I used the word until a peer came up to me and asked me a question. "Why do they call me names like retard? I don't understand."View Story In day to day life, using the r-word is something that you use without thought. By using it to describe an outfit, stranger, or friend I never knew how much I used the word until a peer came up to me and asked me a question. "Why do they call me names like retard? I don't understand." Now let me tell you a little about her. This person was someone that everyone seemed to avoid or didn't talk to, but talked about. When I tell you that I felt so bad that I used that word to describe her, I felt SO bad! I didn't even know what to say. The feeling of her consulting in me when she could have gone to the teacher or family member is still beyond me. I could only say, "That is something beyond me, but I promise I'll get to the bottom of it." I did too. I thought about it all day, week, and still to today about why out of everyone, that she was picked on so much. Something made me so aware of this word that I had to share. This girl was different, and being different isn't retarded. Thank you.

About Taylor:I was brought to this website and cause by being a participate in pageants. The reigning queen has this cause as her platform, or something she promotes. I decided to take the pledge!!!
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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!
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May 12, 2015 | North America: Washington

I Love Special Olympics

By robert bujosa

I was 14 when I joined Special Olympics! It's 2015 and I'm still doing Special Olympics. I love the people. They are super nice and fun loving!View Story Back in grade school to junior high, I didn't have Special Olympics until I got into high school. That was back in 2000! I was 14 when I joined Special Olympics! It's 2015 and I'm still doing Special Olympics. I love the people. They are super nice and fun loving! In high school I played a lot of sports though the school the people in high school are different than Special Olympics! Until i'm too old too to do stuff I will always be in Special Olympics!

About robert bujosa:I'm 30 years old I was born with a clubfoot had a lot of surgeries over the years! I'm fun loving!
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April 29, 2015 | Africa: South Africa

Making a Difference in South Africa

By Emmie Steenkamp (Young Athlete Coach Manu Dei Centre, Klerksdorp, NorthWest South Africa)

Eulin is enjoying the Young Athletes activities

A youngster who didn’t want to take part in play with others his own age caught on to the fun of sport after taking part in the Special Olympics Young Athletes program.View Story A youngster who didn’t want to take part in play with others his own age caught on to the fun of sport after taking part in the Special Olympics Young Athletes program. When Eulin, a 6-year-old with an immune system deficiency, came to Manu Dei in Klerksdorp, NorthWest Province, he was an unemotional little boy who only sat quietly in his wheelchair. The other children wanted him to participate so badly but when they threw the ball to him, he would just push it away with his fist. When we pushed him in his wheelchair, he would get so angry and start screaming and crying. He just didn’t want to take part in any of the events at school. He did not want to be pushed in his wheelchair for the “running.” He would put his brakes on and get so angry with us. With plenty of encouragement, he started getting involved in the activities introduced to him in the Special Olympics Young Athlete Program. The program is for youngsters 2 to 7 year old, and it introduces them to the pleasure of movement and sports in the years before they can become Special Olympics athletes at age 8. Today he loves throwing the ball and now nobody needs to push him in his wheelchair. He moves his wheelchair by himself.

About Emmie Steenkamp (Young Athlete Coach Manu Dei Centre, Klerksdorp, NorthWest South Africa):I am the CEO of Special Olympics South Africa and presented the Young Athletes Train-The-Trainer course in January 2015. Emmie Steenkamp attended the course and since then she is working miracles in her centre in Klerksorp.
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April 22, 2015 | Latin America: Mexico

No Differences on the Playing Field

By Maria Jose Gonzalez

I love sports, specially soccer!!! When you work for the world wide leader in sports you have got to love it, but on February 6 2015 we were invited to play a unified game with the Special Olympic Athletes in Mexico and then the love I had for sports meant a whole lot more.View Story I love sports, specially soccer!!! When you work for the world wide leader in sports you have got to love it, but on February 6 2015, we were invited to play a unified game with the Special Olympic Athletes in Mexico and then the love I had for sports meant a whole lot more.I realized that in a soccer field there is only one goal and that the passion for the game is shared by ALL. There are no differences in a playing field, we are all equal and we all want to give our best. The experience while playing the unified game was one of a kind. First of all I have never played with actual members of the Mexico´s National Soccer team, come July I´ll be rooting for them hoping they come home with a gold medal. Second of all I realized that the only boundaries that I could encounter in that field were the ones that limited the side lines and goal lines. Third and last, I was able to recognize a bit of myself in all of my teammates, we all love soccer and we all love to play together.

About Maria Jose Gonzalez:I am the finance manager for ESPN Mexico
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April 09, 2015 | Africa: South Africa

Opening Eyes program saved my eyes

By Zanele Ngwenya

Special Olympics received the most amazing news from Logwood Village in South Africa: one of our athletes, PETRYS NOËTH, has been scheduled to have both the cataracts on his eyes removed.View Story Special Olympics received the most amazing news from Logwood Village in South Africa: one of our athletes, PETRYS NOËTH, has been scheduled to have both the cataracts on his eyes removed. After months of looking for a hospital that would do Petrys surgery for free, nurse Irene from Logwood Village took Petrys to one of the Healthy Athlete screening that was held in Westonaria in September last year. Through the screening Petrys was referred to an Opthalmologist at Leratong Hospital, We are happy to say that his surgery has been scheduled for the 10th of June. Petrys will now be able to take part in swimming and ten pin bowling like he use to ‪#‎Thank‬ you very much to Bonita and nurse Irene from Logwood Village for never giving up #Thank you to the Opening Eyes Team that screen our athletes #Thank you to the Essilor Team who provide our athletes with glasses #Thank you to Genop health Care who helped provide the equipment that screened the OE athletes that day. Without you it would'nt be possible

About Zanele Ngwenya:Marketing and communications officer
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Decades of sports for people with intellectual disabilities.
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Special Olympics Blog

Jean Vanier, a prophet of humility and simplicity, wins!

Today, the Templeton Foundation gave its most prestigious award to my hero, Jean Vanier.  For Linda and our children and me, he has also been our retreat leader, our teacher of humility, our guide. 

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Posted on 2015-03-11 by Tim

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