On 18 July, 20 Special Olympics USA representatives including athletes, coaches and Unified partners were invited to the White House by President Donald J. Trump to congratulate and recognize them for their accomplishments at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. President Trump was joined by his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, along with Vice President Michael Pence, his wife, Second Lady Karen Pence as well as His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States, Abigail Blunt, spouse of Senator Roy Blunt, and Charlie Blunt, son of Senator Roy Blunt.
During this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Special Olympics athletes had the chance to speak with the President, show off their medals and share a bit about themselves. This is the first time a Special Olympics team has been invited to the White House after representing their country at a Special Olympics World Games event.
After talking with each athlete, the President commented, “This is special for me and special for the First Lady because this is Special Olympics. And we have a lot of the great champions here. They won, and they came in a couple of seconds and a couple of thirds, but a lot of first places. And we (the USA) did fantastically well. What you've done is incredible. Bringing home all those medals!”
Delina Rodrigues, Special Olympics USA powerlifting athlete from Pennsylvania, presented the President with a signed jersey on behalf of the entire Special Olympics USA delegation. “I am so happy I had the chance to visit the Oval Office,” Rodrigues said. “The Second Lady remembered meeting me in Abu Dhabi. The President really liked the gift we gave him. He shook my hand and everything. I am proud to represent my country and Special Olympics USA.”
“It was a tremendous honor to be recognized by the President, the First Lady, as well as the Vice President and Mrs. Pence,” said Matthew Millett, Special Olympics USA basketball player from Massachusetts. “To be inside the White House and the Oval Office with my fellow Special Olympics USA team members was a phenomenal experience and one I won’t soon forget.”
“Being in the White House was awesome,” said Miranda Mendoza, Special Olympics USA athlete from New Jersey competing in athletics. “Meeting the President, the Vice President and the First Lady and the Second Lady has been an honor. This day changed my life like you wouldn’t even imagine. I’m thankful the President invited a group of people from Special Olympics USA as well as myself to be recognized for our achievements in Abu Dhabi!”
“I have asked the Second Lady to represent our government and our country at future Special Olympics events,” said President Trump.
Mrs. Pence said, “This is probably the highest honor I will ever have as Second Lady.” The Second Lady led a delegation of dignitaries to Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
Special Olympics CEO Mary Davis thanked the President and said, “I know our athletes are absolutely thrilled to be here. We create an environment every single day in Special Olympics so that our athletes can be the very best they can be. We create an environment so that the rest of the world can understand their abilities, courage, strength and their determination, and so that they will be more accepting and we can build a more inclusive community and world! We were so fortunate to have the Games hosted in Abu Dhabi. And the Ambassador is here with us today, and they have just been incredibly supportive of our efforts, and so have you. And in doing this, you are all creating a more inclusive world for everybody.”
The 20 athletes represented the 315-member USA delegation from across the country, who brought home 72 gold, 62 silver, and 70 bronze medals, along with 97 participation ribbons. The group visiting the White House included athletes from Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.
Special Olympics athletes continue to serve as examples of inclusion on the highest of stages, transcending boundaries of geography, nationality, political philosophy, gender, age, ethnicity, and religion—during World Games and every day, in over 190 countries around the world.