Special Olympics Mission
The power of sport to change lives is clear in the joy visible on the face of Matthias Puetz of Germany after his snowboarding performance during the 2013 World Winter Games in Korea. Photo by Diego Azubel
The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
Snowshoeing gold medalist Carmen Rosa Garcia of Bolivia at the 2013 World Winter Games. Photo: Diego Azubel
46 Years of Empowerment
The Special Olympics mission remains as vital today as it did when the movement was founded in 1968. Special Olympics strives to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people.
Through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success. Our athletes find joy, confidence and fulfillment -- on the playing field and in life. They also inspire people in their communities and elsewhere to open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential.
There are about 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world. Our goal is to reach out to every one of them – and their families as well.
Special Olympics does this through a wide range of trainings, competitions, health screenings and fund-raising events. We also create opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to band together to change attitudes and support athletes.
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
The Power to Transform Lives
The transformative power of sports to instill confidence, improve health and inspire a sense of competition is at the core of what Special Olympics does. From the detailed coaching guides we provide in many languages to the sharp-eyed officials at our international games, the focus is on real sports, real competition, real achievements.
In Special Olympics, the power and joy of sport, shifts focus to what our athletes CAN do, not what they can't.
Attention to disabilities fades away. Instead, we see our athletes' talents and abilities -- and applaud them for all that they can do. And they are doing a lot -- from gymnastics to soccer to open-water swimming. With our 33 Olympic-style sports, we offer adults and children with intellectual disabilities many ways to be involved in their communities, many ways to show who they really are.
Stories about the Power of Special Olympics
July 21, 2014 | North America: Tennessee
Special Olympics changed a life!
By Betsy Gentry
On the way home from the Special Olympics Games,Bryan Gentry kept talking about how he loved working with the Special Olympic athletes.
He had tasted something far more rewarding than the thrill of victory.View Story ▼Special Olympics changed Bryan Gentry's life!
In 1999 Bryan’s daughter, Brooke, was a senior in high school working as a peer tutor in a special education class at Bradley Central High School, Cleveland, Tennessee. Brooke was planning her future and helping special needs students was her passion. She also loved working with the Special Olympics.
One day Brooke received a brochure regarding the International Special Olympics Games being held at Raleigh, North Carolina, close to Bryan’s hometown.
The family decided to take our family vacation and be volunteers at Special Olympics Games. Brooke played tennis so the family signed up to work the tennis venue in North Carolina. When they arrived at the tennis courts, Brooke was assigned to work with the players and assigned Bryan and Betsy to help with parking.
After about 15 minutes working in the parking lot, Bryan said, ‘I do not want to be with cars. I want to be with people.’ So he ran and jumped on the tennis court with Brooke and started helping her. On the way home he kept talking about how he loved working with the Special Olympic athletes! People had asked him is this your job? Bryan said, ‘No. I’m in the business world.”
He had tasted something far more rewarding than the thrill of victory, Bryan found himself drawn to a lifestyle of sacrifice unlike anything he ever experienced in all his years as a businessman. When the family returned home, Bryan made a life changing decision. He quit the business world and began working with special needs students. First as a social worker, then principal of a private school for adults with disabilities and after retirement he founded, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, a recreational activity for adults with disabilities.
Bryan wanted to provide his extended family with a social outlet on Friday nights, which was as much about showing love as it was about filling a need.
About Betsy Gentry:Betsy Gentry supervises special education student teachers at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. She is a retired Work-based Learning Coordinator for Ooltewah High School in Ooltewah, Tennessee and a past Transition Coordinator for the Bradley County Schools in Cleveland, TN, and a Vocational Rehabilitation Case Manager. She has worked with the Project Discovery curriculum both in implementing it with students with special needs at the local level and in training schools and districts nationwide on its use for nearly ten years. As a past Tennessee Council for Exceptional Children Special Educator of the Year, Mrs. Gentry is an expert on transition issues and a frequent state and national speaker. View less ▲
July 21, 2014 | North America: New York
By Katy Sanchez
In high school I really didn't have any friends at all. I used to be shy and also not really know what to say to other people. Special Olympics really helped me find a lot of friends.View Story ▼In high school I really didn't have any friends at all. I used to be shy and also not really know what to say to other people. After I joined Special Olympics starting in 2007, it really helped me find a lot of friends and find my voice. I have overcome a lot of obstacles in my life but the Special Olympics staff has and still helps me today. I am an athlete from Special Olympics New York and I am also a Global Messenger, too. People say I am a good speaker and a great athlete. My two goals are to compete in the World Games one day and also be International Global Messenger.
About Katy Sanchez:My name is Katy Sanchez. The sports I play are soccer, floor hockey, basketball, track and field, cycling and now a Triathlon. I just earned a bronze medal in the Triathlon at Special Olympics USA Games during June 14 to 21st! I like to hang out with friends, go to the movies, play on my computer. View less ▲
July 17, 2014 | Africa: South Africa
Special Olympics Brings Hope to Hoima
By Lauren Wyndham Quin
This is only the beginning: Special Olympics Uganda will be returning to Hoima with athlete leaders to offer on-going support to this community in the fight against malaria. Stay tuned!View Story ▼On 12 July 2014, community members gathered in the western town of Hoima to lead Special Olympics Uganda athletes in an awareness walk to the central sports centre, where athletes would participate in their first Regional Games. Alongside the athletics, volleyball and soccer, Local Government Health Officials provided information to caretakers on preventative measures against cholera and malaria, in an area where infections are rife and effects devastating. Special Olympics staff members were also invited to community talk shows and interviews to engage in discussions that would bring about a new perspective on inclusion and access to care for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
But this is only the beginning. Since Special Olympics Uganda are recipients of the new Expanding Health Grant they will be returning to Hoima, with athlete leaders, to offer on-going support to this community in the fight against malaria. Stay tuned as we follow Special Olympics Uganda's journey of creating real impact and lasting change in Hoima.
About Lauren Wyndham Quin:Healthy Athletes, Special Olympics Africa RegionView less ▲
July 12, 2014 | North America: Oklahoma
Hard life till Special Olympics
I just didn't have anyone care about me, but when I get involved in Special Olympics, I made friends there who that didn't care about how I am, or what kind of disability I had. All they cared about was, would I be their friend, no matter what.View Story ▼I just didn't have anyone care about me, but when I get involved in Special Olympics, I made friends there who that didn't care about how I am, or what kind of disability I had. All they cared about was, would I be their friend, no matter what.
About Joshu:I'm Joshua Smith. I'm from Tulsa Oklahoma. I'm going on 30 years old. My life was not perfect.View less ▲
July 12, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Australia
Smiling despite the storm
By jack mcneilly
On the 5th of December 2013 at the Asia Pacific games in Newcastle Australia took on the Philippines.It was a cracking game of football between 2 talented and committed teams.View Story ▼On the 5th of December 2013 at the Asia Pacific games in Newcastle Australia took on the Philippines.It was a cracking game of football between 2 talented and committed teams. The end result was a 1-0 win to the Philippines. After the game I took the Australian players into our opponents rooms, I had good reason to do this. Barely 4 weeks prior to the game the Philippines experienced a natural disaster.Typhoon Haiyan, was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded,it devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, on November 8, 2013. It is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing at least 6,268 people in that country alone. Haiyan is also the strongest storm recorded at landfall, and unofficially the strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of wind speed. Even four weeks after the Typhoon bodies were still being found. Despite their country being a disaster zone the Philippine players could still smile, clearly my proudest moment as a coach..
About jack mcneilly:Im jack McNeilly coach of the Australia 2 team who took part in the Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle. My football team took on the Philippines after the game i took my boys into the opposition rooms. I told my players about the big storm that had hit the Philippines 4 weeks earlier, we all agreed that we just had to wish them. I'm coaching the Victorian SO football team in October at the national games, I live in Wangaratta and have a wife and two children.View less ▲
July 10, 2014 | North America: Maryland
The Importance of Mrs. Shriver!!!
By Cathi Holibaugh
Many years ago my daughter was competing in Summer Games at the University of Maryland for aquatics. I was sitting in the stands with the athletes waiting for them to be staged when I saw Mrs. Shriver.View Story ▼Many years ago my daughter was competing in Summer Games at the University of Maryland for aquatics. I was sitting in the stands with the athletes waiting for them to be staged when I saw Mrs. Shriver across the pool greeting the swimmers as the completed their races. I looked at the athletes and said, "Do you see that beautiful women in the yellow pants? She is the reason you are here today!" No reply. "Ok her daughter is on TV. She is Maria Shriver!" No reply. "OK her son in law is in the movies...he's the Terminator!" All of a sudden they got so excited about seeing her!! I had the honor of meeting Mrs. Shriver in the hallway afterwards and told her the story. Her reply with a big smile on her face was, "I really am important aren't I?" We both laughed and I hugged her and thanked her for all she has done for my daughter and all the athletes!!! It was a special day!
About Cathi Holibaugh:My daughter, Tammy has had the honor of being a Special Olympic athlete for 19 years. I volunteer and coach bowling or our county.View less ▲
July 10, 2014 | North America: South Carolina
Bringing Home Gold and a New Pair of Glasses
By Leigh Cheatham
Kevin shoots a layup during the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games. Photo credit - 2014 Special Olympics USA Games
Kevin Sessions, 19, and his dad and coach Warren Sessions found that a trip to Special Olympics Healthy Athletes helped to make Team South Carolina’s goal of gold a possibility at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.View Story ▼Kevin Sessions, 19, and his dad and coach Warren Sessions found that a trip to Special Olympics Healthy Athletes helped to make Team South Carolina’s goal of gold a possibility at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.Kevin had been having some trouble in basketball practice for a few weeks leading up to Games. At first, Warren thought it was just a bad day, but the problem persisted. Kevin told his dad that things were just blurry and he couldn't see clearly. The first chance they got at USA Games, Warren took Kevin and his brother and teammate Christopher over to the Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes clinic. Turns out, Kevin has some spots behind his eyes, which could be the beginning stages of glaucoma. He was also diagnosed with nearsightedness. Kevin was fit for glasses onsite and told to pick them up the next day. There was a big basketball game scheduled for the next day and Warren asked the Opening Eyes volunteers if there was any way to get the glasses before Team South Carolina played... Twenty minutes later, Kevin could see clearly. The next day was the big game. The team warmed up on the court and Warren immediately could tell the difference in Kevin’s shooting. During that game, with his new glasses on, Kevin scored 12 points! Kevin and his team went on to win gold. See Chris in his new glasses in the front row in a photo taken after his team cut down the net.Warren says that it couldn't have happened without the generosity of the team at Healthy Athletes. "It was great to see someone get to the level to help your child. Plus it totally boosted his confidence level."Kevin was one of 1,079 athletes who completed free Healthy Athletes exams at the 2014 USA Games. Based on the exams at Opening Eyes alone, 49 percent of athletes - including Kevin - who went through Opening Eyes received or will receive prescription eyewear.
About Leigh Cheatham:Director of Communications, Special Olympics South CarolinaView less ▲
July 02, 2014 | North America: Michigan
An Unspoken Bond
By Aaron Mills
A year ago, Tate Levendoski and Leoudy Sosa didn't know each other or have a way to communicate with each other. That didn't last long!View Story ▼A year ago, Tate Levendoski and Leoudy Sosa didn't know each other or have a way to communicate with each other. The two met through Project UNIFY. Tate was paired with Leoudy, who also happens to be deaf, for Unified bowling.
The two formed an instant bond despite the fact that they had to overcome a major language barrier.
"I didn't know sign language, but through the hallways we gave each other high fives," recalls Tate. The pair's inability to communicate didn't last long, though.
"Leoudy showed me a sign language website," says Tate. "Every night before bed, before I go to school, whenever I have some time, I go through and learn new signs. And ever since then, I'm signing with him and...we've been talking back and forth."
Tate and Leoudy represented Team Michigan in Unified bowling at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey, winning the gold medal in their division! But the medals they brought home are nothing compared to the lifelong friendship they formed.
About Aaron Mills:Aaron Mills is the Public Relations and Social Media Manager at Special Olympics Michigan.View less ▲
July 01, 2014 | Africa: Kenya
Nandi county, Kenya, finds a heroine in Mrs. Kaittany
By Mr John Makathimo
Special Olympics Kenya was introduced to the Nandi County by a very courageous lady, Mrs. Rhoda Kaittany. Mrs. Kaittany was determined to seek help for her son, who has an intellectual disability, in a region that didn’t cater to children with special needs.View Story ▼Special Olympics Kenya was introduced to the Nandi County by a very courageous lady, Mrs. Rhoda Kaittany. Mrs. Kaittany was determined to seek help for her son, who has an intellectual disability, in a region that didn’t cater to children with special needs. She took it upon herself to create the infrastructure needed to support a Special Olympics program in Nandi County, to find children with intellectual disabilities who were not in school, to find teachers and chiefs who were willing to be trained as coaches, to procure corporate sponsorship, and to identify facilities to host Special Olympics events.
Her valiant efforts paid off and the Nandi program was launched with support from local government and a commitment to include the new sub-program in budget allocation for the 2014-2015 fiscal years. With this support the county was able to host its first county competitions in May at the Aldia Girls Secondary School. Approximately 45 athletes, 9 Unified partners and 45 family members attended the competitions.
A remarkable highlight in Mrs. Kaittany's story is the discovery of three children with an intellectual disability who had grown up in virtual isolation due to the lack of facilities in the region, one was even tied with a rope and locked in a sheep’s pen to keep him out of harm's way.
Happily these three youths are now involved with Special Olympics and were able to participate in the competitions. Mrs. Kiattanty remarked that one looked overjoyed about being outside, while another seemed shocked as if he was seeing the world for the very first time.
The county put on a great competition for the athletes and provided them with entertainment in song, dance and poems that was thoroughly enjoyed by the family members and community who came out in full support to witness their children reveal their true potential.
About Mr John Makathimo:Special Olympics Kenya National Director View less ▲
June 26, 2014 | Africa: Malawi
Malawi addresses clean drinking water
By Mr Felix Chisowa
Contaminated water poses a serious health risk to families and causes gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses. Special Olympics Malawi tackled the water sanitization issue head on during a Family Health Forum.View Story ▼Contaminated water poses a serious health risk to families and
causes gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses like nausea, vomiting, cramps
and diarrhoea. In contrast, drinking clean water protects the body from
disease, improves overall health and aids children in developing a healthy
immune system. Special Olympics Malawi tackled the water sanitization issue
head on during a Family Health Forum held in Salima and Nkhata Bay in the
month of April. Family members that attended received water packs which serve
as a more hygenic option for carrying water and are also more practical and
comfortable than the less sanitary bucket system. The benefits of the water
packs are numerous in that it helps women and children avoid the chronic pain
and spinal injury caused by carrying heavy water jugs stop thier heads in the
traditional fashion; the pack is 7 times lighter and 7 times smaller to store
than a 20L capacity jerry cans and finally it is a much safer alternative to
buckets and jerry cans. A Family member and district coordinator, Mr. Bernard
Flezer, commended Special Olympics for the great contribution they have made
to the community and expressed his gratitude on behalf of the community
members and himself. This initiative is part of the programs Healthy
Communities Project aimed at reducing health risks for the community and
Special Olympics Malawi athletes in particular.
About Mr Felix Chisowa :Special Olympics Malawi National
DirectorView less ▲
Decades of sports for people with intellectual disabilities.Learn More ››
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