Kristina O’Neal, Special Olympics Missouri, USA
Kristina O’Neal’s early years were defined mostly by abuse and neglect. But with an unstoppable spirit and inspiring positive attitude, she has worked to excel in all aspects of her life during the years she has spent with Special Olympics. Now 31 years old, she is active in several sports (bowling, softball, basketball, swimming, bocce, athletics and horseshoes), has been training to be an assistant basketball coach, and most recently completed training to be an International Global Messenger.
Kristina is proud to talk about how the amazing impact the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program – along with a free pair of prescription goggles -- has had on her life. Now, as a Global Messenger, she will travel the world to share her story.
“When I got my goggles thanks to Healthy Athletes, I was able to compete with my backstroke and improve my time, and it also helped me watch my friends, and get in and out of the water safer, and have a great time and enjoy my swimming,” Kristina said.
Born in Spokane, Wash., she spent much of her early life in foster homes. “My birth mother didn’t want to have anything to do to me because of my disability,” she said. At five years old, however, she was adopted by Cecil and Linda O’Neal, who introduced her to Special Olympics when she was 10. “They wanted me to succeed and be accepted and feel good about life.”
It worked. Today, Kristina’s motto is: “We need to smile more, because every 60 seconds that you spend unhappy is a minute of happiness that you will never get back.”
Special Olympics has always been a family affair for the O’Neals. Her father and her brother, CJ, take part as unified partners in bowling and softball, and coaches in multiple sports. Her mother was Kristina’s “personal cheerleader,” attending every event to support Kristina.
Two years ago, however, her adoptive mother died of cancer. “That was one of the toughest obstacles that I have ever had. When she passed away, I asked God for a sign, and a yellow butterfly (my mom’s favorite color) flew around me several times and then landed right on my heart. I knew it was her. She still influences me a lot.”
Whenever she faces challenges, Kristina says she receives tremendous support from both her families – the O’Neals and Special Olympics.