Meet Some of the Special Olympics Young Athletes Community

Special Olympics Young Athletes gives children, with and without intellectual disabilities, ages 2 to 7 the opportunity to benefit from physical moment. Currently, more than 440,000 children and their families enjoy sport and play together while building community.

Meet some of the people in the program and behind the scenes.

Pictured: Top left: Marueen Clarke; bottom left: Christina Rodriguez; center: Violet; top right: Tanya Nzvengende; bottom right: Baur.

Woman holds a toddler in arms
Maureen Clarke, Young Athletes Regional Coordinator for Special Olympics Europe Eurasia (SOEE)
Maureen: Within this Region, there are 58 programs, and in total, these programs use 44 different languages. The language differences can sometimes be a challenge, but we have English speakers in each program, so usually communication is not an issue. there is quite a bit of difference between programs across the region. However, sub-regionally there are similarities between programs among the Balkans or Nordic states for example. Each sub-region has similar structures and challenges to overcome and are also able to find ways to be successful given their environments.
Violet holds a basketball on her head
Violet, Young Athlete
Through a sense of community, Violet was able to embrace her inner confidence. While she is sometimes quite shy, she is now learning to be her own advocate and use her voice. This confidence has not only helped her sports performance but also her reading, math, and creative thinking skills. Violet loves expressing herself and takes art classes and piano and drum lessons. Hopefully, Violet will be able to soon play the drums in her school’s band and rock out with her father who plays the electric guitar. She has also starred in a school production of Beauty and the Beast alongside her peers. Although next season’s play hasn’t been decided yet, Violet is eager to sign up again. With the progress she has made in all aspects of her life, she is making a name for herself on stages of all kinds.
Headshot of Tanya smiling at camera
Tanya Nzvengende, Young Athletes Regional Coordinator for Special Olympics Africa (SOA)
Because all of the funding for Young Athletes comes from grants, Tanya and other Young Athletes leaders in her region have come up with creative ways to fit Young Athletes into other programs that also receive funding. For example, Special Olympics Zimbabwe has had success with combining Young Athletes and Family Health Forums, so that both families and children can benefit from the programs offered by Special Olympics. By coming up with innovative ways to help the community, Young Athletes programs retain their existing athletes and expand.
Young athlete runs while adults cheer him on.
Cristina Rodriguez, Young Athletes Regional Coordinator for Special Olympics Latin America (SOLA)
Cristina helps keep the Programs up to date with information and translates any new information into both the Region’s language and cultural context. This translation makes the materials more easily understood by those reading them and helps foster a true sense of community surrounding Special Olympics and Young Athletes. Changes like using pictures and quotes from athletes within SOLA make government presentations and coaches’ trainings all the more effective.
Baur throws ball in air while sitting on the floor.)
Chris, Parent (Baur)
Chris knows that while you cannot teach something like compassion, it was Young Athletes and Special Olympics that gave her son Baur an outlet to be his entirely compassionate and caring self. She has taken comfort in knowing that he has a worldwide family behind him cheering him on every step of the way. Through this community and the atmosphere of Young Athletes that helped demonstrate Baur’s independence. Young Athletes showed Chris that Baur can do great things all on his own and coexist with others without the guiding hand of his parents. The safe and inclusive environment that Young Athletes fosters allowed both Chris and Baur to grow and reach new heights.
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