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 4.2 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.

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.

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Special Olympics transforms athletes’ lives through the joy of sport. Help us make a difference.

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Videos and Photos

DifferentBarry Cairns tells what it's like to be a Special Olympics athlete.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

SpeechlessSpecial Olympics changed her life in deep and meaningful ways.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Summer GamesAround the world, months of practice are paying off.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Photos on FBSee photos and comments from our supporters around the world.See Photos »


Videos and Photos

Hope in HaitiLeo and Gedeon play in makeshift fields, tent towns, wherever they can.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Finding His VoiceDavid Egan has always dreamed big. Now look at him!Learn More »


Videos and Photos

Sport Teaches UsOur life-changing work is fueled by the power of sport.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Making SuccessDoctors said Lani is “never going to achieve anything.” Learn More »


Videos and Photos

Very Very SpecialMusic helps Special Olympics make an impact worldwide.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Around The WorldGreat photos of Special Olympics events and people.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Focus on ChangeWhat we do can't be done without our partners.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Power of SportsSports are a powerful way to change our athlete’s lives.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

What We DoSports, health, education, community and more.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Who We AreWe are athletes, families, celebs, volunteers and more.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Summer SportsOur athletes run, jump, swim and score in summer.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Playing UnifiedUnified Sports reveals strengths in every team member.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Healthier AthletesOur free health clinics are making a huge difference.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Deon NamisebHe's a speaker and role model. It didn't start that way in Namibia.Learn More »


Special Olympics Blog

Health Needs Need Closer Examination

"You can't compete if your feet hurt, if your teeth hurt or if your ears ache."read more »

Posted on 2014-04-07 by Ryan

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