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Emanuelle Dutra Fernandes de Souza, Special Olympics Athlete, Brazil and Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger

Emanuelle Dutra Fernandes de Souza

Special Olympics Brazil athlete, former Sargent Shriver Global Messenger, Consultant to SOI Leadership and Organizational Development department

Emanuelle Dutra Fernandes de Souza is a 27-year-old empowered young woman!

Beyond being an athlete who has won several medals for Brazil, she currently represents the fight for inclusion using her own voice to uplift the voice of people with intellectual disabilities. Emanuelle (or Manu, as she likes to be called), brought a motto to her life in a sentence that has been the beginning of many projects for Special Olympics Brazil - "Inclusion is Action". For her, it is “useless” to talk about inclusion without experiencing inclusion in practice.

In Brazil, Manu is a dedicated member of the Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Council and coordinates the Athlete Leader’s group alongside the program's Board. Through these positions, she encourages the active participation of other athletes in activities and increasingly encourages other athletes to reach their full potential. Manu is also a member of the Municipal Council for Children and Adolescents and uses her voice to represent people with disabilities.

When Manu was 2 years old, she had seizure which left her in a coma for a week. After she went back home, her parents noticed that Manu was acting differently; walking and talking were more difficult for her. The seizures increased in frequency, so doctors recommended not only more therapy, but also moving to a calmer place. Manu´s family decided to leave their home behind and relocate to Rio Das Ostras.

In this new city, Manu’s health and life began to improve notably, especially after her mother, Debora Dutra, became involved with the Associação de Pais e Amigos dos Excepcionais (the Association of Parents and Friends of People with Disabilities – APAE). Manu became involved in sports, and discovered her love for football and beach volleyball, training almost daily. This led to her discovery by Special Olympics in 2013, during the development of soccer programs and competitions in Brazil.

From that moment on, Manu became deeply involved in Special Olympics initiatives; she participated in the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles, where she won a bronze medal in football; she also represented the region as a youth leader at the Special Olympics Global Youth Leadership Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2018, along with her Unified Sports partner, Leticia Maciel. There, they led a project to introduce Unified Sports to students at Leticia’s high school. That same year, she also played in the Unified World Cup in Chicago, where she got a silver medal.

In 2019, Manu was selected to be one of ten in the new class of Sargent Shriver Global Messengers. Although her term has ended, she continues to be a powerful voice representing other athletes. During her tenure (2019-2023) Manu had many notable experiences:

  • Speaking at the United Nations representing Special Olympics Latin America.
  • Participating in the 2022 Unified Cup in Detroit, Michigan, USA where she served on the official trophy design team and represented Special Olympics International, including giving a speech at the Opening Ceremonies.
  • Representing millions of athletes at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin 2023 including giving a speech at the Opening Ceremony asking for more action when it comes to inclusion of People with ID in society.

By the end of her SSGM term, Manu was recognized for her advocacy role and awarded with the Pedro Ernesto Medal of Merit, the highest honor awarded by the Rio de Janeiro Municipality awarded to honor Brazilian citizens who have rendered outstanding services to the nation.

As part of her role in the Special Olympics Latin America Regional Athlete Leadership Council, Manu visited all the venues that will be used at the Latin America Regional Games in Paraguay 2024 and was invited to be part of the evaluation committee of the games.

She is currently working as a Leadership Development Consultant with the Leadership and Organizational Development team for Special Olympics International, where she contributes by reviewing resources for Unified Leadership and Athlete Leadership engagements, in addition to training businesses in the Unified Leadership approach.

“Let's live inclusion in practice! Together we can be much more.”

Board of Directors


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