WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2023 -- On this Giving Tuesday, two Special Olympics athletes are being surprised with a billboard reveal in New York City, where they are the faces of a new campaign titled, “Yeah, I am Special.” Joshua Olds from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and Madi “Maddog” Madory from Oklahoma City, Okla. are debuting limited-edition sweatshirts that declare, “Yeah, I am Special,” on shoppable billboards in New York City, reclaiming and redefining what it truly means to be special.
The athletes featured on the billboard include: Madory, a 28-year-old powerlifting dynamo who can deadlift 1.5 times her bodyweight, among a multitude of other weightlifting achievements; and Olds, a 17-year-old triathlon star, who has already completed 17 triathlons and has countless swimming records under his belt.
According to the Oxford dictionary, the word “special” means better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual. And in sports, it’s often used to describe once-in-a-lifetime athletes or legacy moments. People have used “special” as a euphemism for decades, giving it a negative charge as it pertains to people with disabilities. In fact, 72% of Americans frequently hear “special” used as an insult or put-down.*
“Our athletes do amazing things every day, all around the world. They break all kinds of stereotypes, accomplish things they were told they’d never be able to do, and inspire others to become more inclusive. This ‘Yeah, I am Special’ collection focuses on the powerful nature of the word ‘special,’ making it a clothing item for all to aspire to wear. Our founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, asked Special Olympics athletes to “be brave in the attempt.” And whether it’s from a billboard on Broadway, or at a local practice or competition, Special Olympics athletes bravely remind us all what it means to be extraordinary every day. This is the time to act. Our athletes need you. Come be extraordinary with them.”
“Special” is boldly embroidered in red on the front of the sweatshirt, with the back of the sweatshirt declaring: “Special: Exceptionally great. Important. Unique. Special is something to strive for. The ultimate compliment. A word that we can all hope to be called. Not for the things that we cannot do. But for all of the things that we can.”
To find out more about the “Yeah, I am Special” activation, and to purchase a “Special” sweatshirt— with all proceeds going directly to Special Olympics—passersby may scan the QR code on the billboards in New York City on 49th Street and 7th Avenue, and 52nd Street and Broadway, or visit www.imspecial.org. The sweatshirts are also available for purchase in the Special Olympics merchandise store.
This activation is part of Special Olympics' larger “The Revolution Is Inclusion” campaign and has been spearheaded by full-service independent advertising agency Tombras. With Tombras’ continued support in early 2024, Special Olympics will push ahead to reclaim, redefine, and explore the power of words and their impact on the movement's community in an extended global digital campaign, which will include new limited-edition merchandise.
*Tombras primary research