Special Olympics athletes contribute to their communities in so many ways beyond the playing field. Athlete leaders put their talents to work as volunteers, coaches, fund-raisers, staffers, Board Members and spokespersons. They are teaching the world the true meaning of inclusion.
Inclusion Starts with Athlete Leadership
Through sports training and competitions, Special Olympics helps people with intellectual disabilities (ID) achieve joy, acceptance and success. They gain the confidence that comes with achievement. They feel empowered. Athletes lead the way as the voices of the movement, taking on meaningful roles in their communities and educating the world about the potential of people with ID. These athletes drive the Special Olympics movement forward with their insights and contributions, and are shining examples of what it means to be a leader.
"Nothing About Us, Without Us." Special Olympics athletes take this disability rights slogan very seriously. That's why Special Olympics athletes are involved in every step of the organization -- all around the world and in every possible role.
Here, athlete Ricardo Thornton, left, carries the Flame of Hope with former South African President Nelson Mandela. This 2001 event launched an ambitious campaign -- led and embraced by Special Olympics athletes -- aimed at expanding Special Olympics programs to neglected and isolated people with intellectual disabilities across the African continent.
Jimmy Masina of South Africa started as an athlete in the 1990s, competing in football and athletics. But it was floor hockey that he really loved. With determination and training, he moved on to coaching. Jimmy now serves as a floor hockey official -- in local, provincial and even World Games. He is also on staff with the Special Olympics Africa Regional office.
Loretta Claiborne is a Special Olympics athlete with a global reputation as an eloquent and powerful speaker for the rights of people with ID. Sports showed her a new world of achievement. She has completed over 26 marathons and placed in the top 100 women finishers of the Boston Marathon twice.
As the first spokesperson for a special partnership between Special Olympics and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Lucy Meyer has been working to raise visibility and resources around the world. Lucy has spoken around the USA, presented to U.S. President Barack Obama, and met with U.S. lawmakers to urge ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
David Egan, right, testifies on employment of people with intellectual disabilities at a U.S. Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee hearing. Recently, he served as a Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation Public Policy Fellow with the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. David worked to influence policy and also improve how individuals and organizations view people with disabilities.
Lani DeMello's first love is competing in gymnastics, but she has also become a mentor and a peer coach to other Special Olympics rhythmic gymnasts. At the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles, she also served as a gymnastics official.
Sargent Shriver, second from right, was an early advocate for increased Athlete Leadership roles in Special Olympics. There have been a total of 72 International Global Messengers selected to date. It is the early investment in athletes as leaders that has enable SOI to grow from a sports organization to also become an agent for change in society.
Every four years, 12 athletes from around the world are selected for the Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers program. They are trained in public speaking, media outreach and policy advocacy-- and serve as primary spokespeople on behalf of Special Olympics and Special Olympics athletes.
Kester Edwards is currently the Manager of Sport & Development at Special Olympics HQ in Washington, DC. He is known as a sports innovator who played a pivotal role in bringing an endurance sport -- open water swimming -- to Special Olympics. His goal was to challenge our athletes in a bold new way.
Jasmine Sharif is former chair of Special Olympics Pakistan Athlete Input Council and serves as Co-Chair of the Asia Pacific Athlete Input Council. Jasmine is active on social media and regularly submits short stories about the impact of Special Olympics.
An Athlete Input Council is a forum for athletes to voice their opinions about issues important to Special Olympics. Athletes also develop leadership skills, serve as volunteers, and represent fellow athletes. The councils are developed at the local, national, regional and global level.
Matthew Williams is chair of the Global Athlete Congress. He was elected at the 2010 Global Athlete Congress in Marrakesh, Morocco. This was the third Global Athlete Congress and brought together 66 Special Olympics athletes from more than 35 countries around the world.
Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers
Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers (SSIGM) are chosen from among the world’s top Athlete Leaders, serving as spokespeople for the Special Olympics movement. These Athlete Leaders are passionate about empowering people with intellectual disabilities, and serve as a voice for athletes from all around the world.
Meet the 2015-2019 Class of International Global Messengers
Global Athlete Input Council
With athletes at the center of the Special Olympics Movement, they also need to be at the forefront of our leadership, helping guide the way for the future of Special Olympics. Members of the Global Athlete Input Council represent each of the seven regions, and are part of the discussion at the global leadership level. These individuals present valuable review, input, and feedback to the Special Olympics International Board of Directors and Leadership Team.
Athlete Input Council Members Discuss Leadership
50th Anniversary Messengers
The group of 50th Anniversary Messengers will serve as ambassadors for an important message: What once was a movement FOR people with intellectual disabilities has now become a movement FROM them. This role offers a tangible example of what this transition means, and the power it holds to inspire a new generation of supporters and stakeholders. These Messengers will play a key role at the 50th Anniversary Event in Chicago as spokespeople and leaders.