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Our Athletes

Athletes are the heart of Special Olympics. Our athletes are children and adults with intellectual disabilities from all around the world. They are finding success, joy and friendship as part of our global community. They're also having lots of fun! 

Members of the female football team from SO Bahamas rush in for hugs after a victory

Be a Fan of Joy. Trenice Bell gives a victory hug to Shaniqua Newbold as more teammates rush in to celebrate. The moment came after a Team Bahamas win at the Special Olympics Jamaica Football Invitational Competition.

Who Are Our Athletes?

Everybody is different. Special Olympics is for people who are different because they learn new skills slowly. They may not understand ideas that other people learn easily. They are different in other ways as well. They have an intellectual disability, or ID.

Intellectual disabilities happen in all cultures, races and countries. The goal of Special Olympics is to reach out to the 200 million people in the world with ID.

Our more than 4.4 million Special Olympics athletes – ages 8 years old and up -- come from more than 170 countries. We also have a Young Athletes program for children ages 2 to 7.

At any age and in every country, our athletes are learning new skills, making new friends and gaining in fitness and confidence.


About Intellectual Disability

Special Olympics is a global movement of people who want to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. But what are intellectual disabilities? Learn More

Everyday, Everywhere

Special Olympics trainings and competitions happen 365 days a year in more than 170 countries.

We offer 32 Olympic-style summer and winter sports. So whatever your age or skill level, Special Olympics has something for you. Many athletes start in one sport, then go on to try others.

Through sports, our athletes are seeing themselves for their abilities, not disabilities. Their world is opened with acceptance and understanding.They become confident and empowered by their accomplishments. They are also making new friends, as part of the most inclusive community on the planet -- a global community that is growing every day.

Abdel-Raman Hassan is an athlete whose life changed after he joined Special Olympics. He's a swimmer with ID from Saudi Arabia. He is also partially paralyzed. Yet he doesn't let anything -- or anyone -- put limits on his abilities.  

His talent for swimming did not come naturally or easily. Abdel-Raman's father says it took him a month to hold his breath underwater for three seconds. It took him a year to swim a distance of one meter. He did not give up. Abdel-Raman went on to win gold medals in 25- and 50-meter races at World Summer Games. He is a champion.


Not Alone

What is it like having ID? David Egan of Virginia says it can be difficult, but that joining Special Olympics helped him a lot. “It was hard for me to accept the fact that I have Down syndrome. But it became easier when I joined Special Olympics and I discovered that I was not alone.”

Over the years, David has taken part in soccer (football), basketball, ice skating, softball and swimming. He says the confidence he built through Special Olympics has helped him find and keep a job for the last 15 years.

From Athletes to Leaders

Through sports training and competitions, Special Olympics helps people with ID find joy, acceptance and success. As their lives open up, athletes gain the confidence that comes with achievement. They feel empowered. They are ready to take on new challenges to make use of their new abilities.

They can become mentors for other athletes. They can train to become coaches and officials. They can also move toward a more public role as a speaker or spokesperson. They can speak to audiences and journalists about the positive changes that Special Olympics helped bring about in their lives. (Read more about our International Global Messengers from around the world here.)

At Special Olympics, our athletes are empowered to share their many gifts and talents with society. Yet, it's more than that. Our athletes also become empowered to be leaders in society -- and teach us all about acceptance and understanding. (Learn more about Special Olympics Athlete Leadership programs here.)

Stories Written by Special Olympics Athletes


March 19, 2015 | North America: New York

Just BE YOURSELF!!!

By lillian chaparro

I admired Special Olympics because the athletes learn how to be themselves and have fun with other people around them .I may have autism and I am not ashamed to admit it!View Story I admired Special Olympics because the athletes learn how to be themselves and have fun with other people around them. I may have autism and I am not ashamed to admit it! People may think I'm crazy and not be equal towards them in public but that doesn't mean I'm giving up my freedom or the right to not be myself and not be happy with how to live my life.I love to learn to be who I AM and I'm proud of it!!!! Just be yourself you're lovable!!!!

About lillian chaparro:I'm a lovable person and a fan of Special Olympics.
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March 19, 2015 | North America: Oklahoma

My Special Olympics Dolphins Years of Swimming

By Mary carolyin. Th Henson.

Hi I'm Mary was rased in good oldye? Oklahoma I've swam since was 16/17 My firsts event train was at the downtown y then worked onto the Ione YWCA for several yrs then is on now boards w the Emound Oklahoma stingrays teams speciall olympics. Swimming teams /Speciall olympics has taught me 5 thingsView Story Hi I'm Mary. I was raised in good old Oklahoma. I've been swimming since I was 16 or 17. My first event training was at the downtown YMCA, then worked out at the Ione YWCA for several years, then I'm now onboard with the Emound Oklahoma Stingrays Special Olympics team. Swimming on teams with Special Olympics has taught me five things: persevereance is one; two is, to succeed at almost anything means risks, lifestyles taught in the field of the swim training sessions. Third, work adhere ANC e patience I'd best apply that to my previous job for Arby's Inc. Then put to mind anything compasete. That is why I, Mary Carolyin Henson need to be awarded the Spirit award for 2015 this yr! Regards from athlete Mary c Henson.

About Mary carolyin. Th Henson.:Iff I'm Mary awarded the spirit awards for love gentleness patience kindness understanding persvance skills persuasion goals contribute I'd contribute to it ? Even my job strive self conscience knowledge e wisdom I'd want to simply my words tell other athletes thanks e they? Toos can learns from w I'd several yrs back to get accomplishs to where's I'm is now advance ands w I'd? Show to others thru my team we truly all winners mh.
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March 17, 2015 | North America: Missouri

I was a victim of this word.

By Leisa Christensen

We need to get rid of this word as well as get rid of bullying and ridiculing people who are different and special in their own way. We are human beings and have feelings just like everyone else.View Story I was diagnosed with that word and also A.D.D I was teased a lot and people had called me that word as well as other hateful words. I have a son who was also diagnosed with that word as well as A.D.H.D. and he was teased and picked on as well. We need to get rid of this word as well as get rid of bullying and ridiculing people who are different and special in their own way. We are human beings and have feelings just like everyone else. So please be kind to everyone. Thanks :)

About Leisa Christensen:I was once in special Olympics when I lived in Arizona but not now that I moved to Missouri.
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March 09, 2015 | Middle East North Africa: Lebanon

Lebanon will host 2016 first- ever Special Olympics MENA Winter games

By Noha Gaballa

2016 SO MENA Winter games logo

Special Olympics Lebanon will host the first- ever Regional Winter games from 30 January to 5 February 2016. The games will feature 4 Olympic-type Winter Sports (Floor Hockey, Snowshoeing, Alpine Skiing and Cross Country Skiing) with an anticipated participation of 370 athletes, 70 coaches, 60 Youth & Families representing 15 countries from the MENA region.View Story Special Olympics Middle East North Africa recently announced that Special Olympics Lebanon will host the first- ever Regional Winter games from 30 January to 5 February 2016. The games will feature 4 Olympic-type Winter Sports (Floor Hockey, Snowshoeing, Alpine Skiing and Cross Country Skiing) with an anticipated participation of 370 athletes, 70 coaches, 60 Youth & Families representing 15 countries from the MENA region. SO MENA Regional President & Managing Director Ayman Abdel Wahab met the Lebanese Prime Minister and the Youth & Sports Minister in Beirut where they discussed the arrangements for the upcoming Regional Winter games and they expressed their utmost pleasure that Lebanon was awarded to host such a great games that will send a message of inclusion, respect and celebrate the determination, courage and special abilities of Special Olympics athletes.

About Noha Gaballa:Noha Gaballa: SO MENA Staff
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March 09, 2015 | North America: US Virgin Islands

Annie Carey

By Annie Carey

I have been in Special Olympics since I was 12 years old. I went to the World Games in 2009 for skiing. My favorite sport is tennis.View Story I have been in Special Olympics since I was 12 years old. I went to the World Games in 2009 for skiing. My favorite sport is tennis.

About Annie Carey: I have a sister and a brother-in-law and nieces and nephews, too.
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March 06, 2015 | North America: Massachusetts

In my own words how the r word makes me feel

By Emily Webster

My name is Emily Webster, and I do bowling for Special Olympics Massachusetts, and the one word I can't stand more than anything else is the r word.View Story My name is Emily Webster, and I do bowling for Special Olympics Massachusetts, and the one word I can't stand more than anything else is the r word. When I hear people use it I get angry enough to want to go up to them and tell them it is not ok to use that word, and when I do that I feel empowered and it is a very freeing feeling. Do not be afraid to speak up for yourself!

About Emily Webster:My name is Emily Webster, and I am proud to be a Special Olympics Bowling Athlete, and I am 28 years old.
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March 05, 2015 | North America: Pennsylvania

Lindsey the story of my life

By Lindsey Madden

My name is Lindsey I was born with cerebral palsy and mental retardation. I also have a birth mark on my face. Growing up with special needs was very hard. When I was still in school I was picked on every day. It hurt so bad I would cry every day.View Story My name is Lindsey I was born with cerebral palsy and mental retardation. I also have a birth mark on my face. Growing up with special needs was very hard. When I was still in school I was picked on every day. It got so bad that I was getting called the R word and it hurt so bad I would cry every day. I want everyone to see we are just like every one else. I hate being called the R word but I don't let people get me down. We can doing anything no matter what people say about us.

About Lindsey Madden :My name is Lindsey I have special needs but. I don't let that stop me from doing the thing I want too. I started doing special olmypic witch I love so much I so proud to be part of a great thing
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March 05, 2015 | North America: Rhode Island

How Much Things Changed

By Robert Macaux

I'm proud to be an unique individual

My name is Robert Macaux, I'm 32 years old and also born with Down syndrome. Throughout my life, I have been hearing a lot of people that use the r word way too often, and it can be very destructive to use since that word can hurt a lot of people emotionally.View Story My name is Robert Macaux, I'm 32 years old and also born with Down syndrome. Throughout my life, I have been hearing a lot of people that use the r word way too often, and it can be very destructive to use since that word can hurt a lot of people emotionally. I'm not just an Special Olympics athlete but also a big time advocate, so I been taking leadership courses with Advocates in Action. Right after I graduated with Advocates back in 2005, I put my leadership skills into action with The Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island so I can speak out to everybody that labels such as the r word should never be used in any form or fashion. I was a broad member with them so I can go on a mission to spread public awareness to all unique individuals. Since I heard that people had been using that word, both me and my girlfriend are sharing our unique lives in every school system in RI, so that we can be a powerful team to remove negative labels forever.

About Robert Macaux:I am 32 years old and born with Down syndrome, and I'm also an athlete, actor, college student, advocate and a broad member with DSSRI.
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March 05, 2015 | North America: New York

Please don't use the R-WORD

By Kara Siddons

I have participated in Special Olympics since age 8. I was born in 1979 and my parents thought they had a healthy beautiful girl which was the case until I started school. That is when they discovered that I was different but they didn't love me any less.View Story I have participated in Special Olympics since age 8. I was born in 1979 and my parents thought they had a healthy beautiful girl which was the case until I started school. That is when they discovered that I was different but they didn't love me any less. They gave me a great upbringing and loved me just the same if not more. I went all through school being in Special Ed and being picked on because of different abilities that they didn't have. I was also made fun of in my neighborhood. My feelings were constantly being hurt and due to all of that I now suffer with my disability and also mental illnesses due to the bullies that made fun of me. It hurts and angers me to this day to hear the R-WORD being used either directly or indirectly.The worse feeling is when your own family members call you the word directly like example my niece will call me the R-Word when angry at me. I want to thank my mom and dad for accepting me for who I am and also my brothers who defended me when kids were picking on me.

About Kara Siddons:I'm learning disabled which I was diagnosed with when I entered school age Please pledge not to use the R-WORD it does hurt us that are differently abeled wether direct or indirectly,dont use please
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March 05, 2015 | North America: Ohio

I'm an Austic Adult

By Michelle B.

My family doesn't understand the use that word is awful. I'm high functioning austic. I was bullied all my life being called names mostly the r-word. I know what it's like to be different.View Story My family doesn't understand the use that word is awful. I'm high functioning austic. I was bullied all my life being called names mostly the r-word. I know what it's like to be different.

About Michelle B.:Im Michelle I'm a 22 year old austic women.
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Special Olympics Blog

Jean Vanier, a prophet of humility and simplicity, wins!

Today, the Templeton Foundation gave its most prestigious award to my hero, Jean Vanier.  For Linda and our children and me, he has also been our retreat leader, our teacher of humility, our guide. 

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Posted on 2015-03-11 by Tim

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