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Athlete Kelly Campbell Makes History as First Special Olympics Washington Athlete to be Named Board Chair

Special Olympics Washington and Kelly Campbell are making history in a way that is sure to make an impact throughout the intellectual disability community. Having been involved with the organization for over three decades in a variety of areas, Campbell is set to become the first athlete to be named board chair for the Program and only the second athlete in the history of the Special Olympics global movement to hold this position.

A Special Olympics athlete smiles at the camera. Next to her photo is the Special Olympics Washington logo.
Kelly Campbell becomes the first Special Olympics athlete to lead the Special Olympics Washington Board of Directors.

As a woman in sports, there are various challenges to overcome, but with help from Mary Kay Beeby, a mentor and friend, Campbell has overcome them all to get where she is. Campbell has been an active member of Washington’s Athlete Input Council, where Beeby acted as the facilitator. Beeby shares, “Kelly’s passionate about Special Olympics and shared many good suggestions over the four years she was on my council.”

The work Campbell put in on the Athlete Input Council prepared her for the next big step.

“Over the past year, Kelly has worked hard to develop the skills to be a great board chair,” Beeby says about the growth she’s seen in Campbell. “Since most interactions are on Zoom, I’ve been able to attend most of the prep sessions with Kelly.”

Without the relationship with Beeby and the growth Campbell has experienced as an athlete leader, the board chair position might not have been possible.

“It has made me proud of the accomplishments to get to this point,” the multi-sport Campbell says, shy but with a visible grin on her face.

When word got out, she couldn’t have been happier with the support. “(Everyone was) very inviting and very accepting,” she says about her colleagues’ reactions. “I really appreciate that. Peopel didn't me as different and didn't see me as ‘disability first,’ just ‘person first’. I really appreciate that very warm welcome.”

Having served on the Special Olympics Washington Board of Directors since 2017, Campbell has put together quite the resume. In addition to her involvement in Washington, Campbell serves on Special Olympics committees on the national and international levels.

“I’m very proud to be Special Olympics Washington’s first athlete board chair and it’s a privilege to serve the organization in this capacity,” says Campbell. “I’m looking forward to driving changes that make positive impacts on my fellow athletes and continuing to advocate for those who don’t have a voice.”

During her time as board chair, she hopes to expand the number of athletes who participate in Special Olympics Washington programming and to educate more communities about the power of inclusion.

She says, “as I take the gavel as Chair of the Special Olympics Washington Board of Directors, I’d like to outline my vision and the legacy I want to leave at the end of my term,” which includes objectives like implementing a report card for board members to self-evaluate their level of engagement and holding one-on-one meetings with board members to self-reflect and exchange feedback.

A Special Olympics athlete stands on stage and shakes hands with another person.
Kelly's (right) previous leadership roles have prepared her for this next step.

“Amie Dugan from SONA presented an in-depth training series based on best practices she has observed in boards over the years,” Beeby adds. “Kelly worked hard and attended every session, asking good questions and building a notebook of resources she will use this year.”

Throughout the North America Region, various initiatives are being taken to make Special Olympics more of an athlete-led organization. Athletes are stepping into meaningful employment roles with Special Olympics Programs. Ahead of the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, the Athlete Input Council provides valuable input to make the experience better for all involved.

“As we double down on what we mean by being athlete-led and inspired, this appointment truly demonstrates how seriously we take that pledge,” says Special Olympics Washington CEO David Wu about Campbell. “We also have added two new athletes to our board which brings the total number to four, the largest contingent of athletes on any board in North America.”

Outside of Special Olympics, Campbell has learned valuable lessons that will help guide her to success. While working at PCC Community Market Grocery store as a clerk, she says she’s learned, “empathy, active listening, practicing and communication skills.” All things that transition easily to the Special Olympics community and to her new leadership role.

“I love to learn, and this was another opportunity (to do that), plus making my voice heard,” Campbell says. She knows the platform she has is a big one and she looks to make an impact with it. “Being a role model that my fellow athletes look up to is important. I am excited to show them that you can do anything you put your mind to and to not let anyone stop you from achieving your dreams and goals,” she says.

Campbell will lead her first Special Olympics Washington Board of Directors meeting in March. She takes on this next challenge with hopes of providing a more athlete-led approach and inspiration to other athletes to take on leadership roles.

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