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 32 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
February 19, 2015 | Why I Support Special Olympics
Heart of a champion
By Katie Williams
Special Olympics has changed my life. I've been able to meet people all over the world and the United States. I've been to the world and national games. I'm a world and national champion swimmer.View Story ▼Special Olympics has changed my life. I've been able to meet people all over the world and the United States. I've been to the world and national games. I'm a world and national champion swimmer. I've met Olympians Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin and Peter Vanderkaay and Garrett Webber Gale and Allison Schmitt and the mother of Missy Franklin. It's been a dream to see so many things. I've gotten my younger brother involved with Special Olympics with doing fundraisers though the state. It's been a dream come true...
About Katie Williams :My name is Katie Williams I'm 36 I'm an athlete that has competed in volleyball and swimming I'm a 2011 world games gold and silver medalist and 2014 national champion. Swimmer in the 100 free.... View less ▲
February 09, 2015 | Middle East North Africa: Libya
Libyan swimmer, Noman Al-Sadik Felfel (The World Champion) and his journey of achievements
By Noha Gaballah
Noman was born in 1971 with ID (DS) in a family of 11 members. He started practicing swimming since his early childhood, at the age of 4.
He is very sociable and has a sense of humor that takes the heart of whoever sees his kind spirit and cheerful smile that does not leave his lips.View Story ▼Noman was born in 1971 with Down syndrome in a family of 11 members. He started practicing swimming in his early childhood, at the age of 4.
He is very sociable and has a sense of humor that takes the heart of whoever sees his kind spirit and cheerful smile that does not leave his lips.
He was the first athlete to join Special Olympics Libya in 1998 and from here started the journey of his consecutive achievements:-
His first world participation was in the World Summer Games in the United States. He grabs the attention and makes a memorable achievement for Libya after winning 2 silver medals. This success was a superior matter for the advancement of sports of people with disabilities in Libya. After that, he participated in many successive regional and World games whereby he won many gold & silver medals in Tunisia, UAE, Syria, China and Greece.
After that, he was chosen as the global messenger for Special Olympics Libya.
He took parts in many international conferences where he was introduced as a role model for people with intellectual disabilities.
About Noha Gaballah:I am an editor with Special Olympics in the Middle East-North Africa office in Cairo.View less ▲
December 31, 2014 | SOI General: Headquarters
New York Times: An Oasis of Care
By Lynn Aylward
Trey Kramer gets compassionate quality health care
Special Olympics Global Medical Adviser Doctor Matt Holder and the clinic he operates with for people with intellectual disabilities in Kentucky are featured in a gripping story in today’s New York Times.View Story ▼Special Olympics Global Medical Adviser Doctor Matt Holder and the clinic he operates with for people with intellectual disabilities in Kentucky are featured in a gripping story in the Dec. 31 New York Times. Investigative reporter Dan Barry, who addressed a joint seminar of Special Olympics and the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry in June and frequently covers the stories of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, wrote the story. It follows a day in the life of Trey Kramer, a young man with an intellectual disability, and his mother, Mimi, as they visit the Lee Specialty, one of the very few facilities “designed exclusively to provide medical and dental treatment — and a sense of welcome — to people with intellectual disability.” People with intellectual disabilities are one of the most medically underserved populations in the US and the rest of the world. The story speaks frankly about the reasons why people with intellectual disabilities don’t get good health care: in addition to medical professionals not receiving training in the health needs of these patients, doctors and dentists may discourage patients with intellectual disabilities and their families from seeking care at their offices because they are perceived as “too disruptive in the waiting room, too long in the examining room.” But at the Lee Specialty Clinic, which was built by the state of Kentucky at a cost of $4.7 million and will mostly operate on Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and related medical billings, offers full service to families accustomed to embarking on odysseys in search of health care.
About Lynn Aylward:I work in external health communications for Special Olympics.View less ▲
December 31, 2014 | Why I Support Special Olympics
By Emily Walzak
Special Olympics has changed my life. This is my 3rd season in figure skating and I can't say enough good things about what Special Olympics has done for me.View Story ▼Special Olympics has changed my life. This is my 3rd season in figure skating and I can't say enough good things about what Special Olympics has done for me. They've given me the chance to train and compete and live out my dreams and passion of figure skating. My coaches have been amazing in helping me be the best skater I can be; and making my dreams come true. They've coached me to 2 Regional championships, where I got the silver medal; and in February 2015; I will be traveling to Kamloops British Columbia for the Special Olympics BC Winter Games; and then on to Prince George for the Canada Winter Games. I never thought I would make the Provincial Team but with a lot of hard work, determination, and the support of my coaches and family; it became possible. My next dream is to make the National and World Teams. I've learned a lot from Special O about how to be an athlete, to train, be healthy, and most of all; to not give up on your passion and dreams!
About Emily Walzak:24 year old figure skater for Special Olympics who competes for Team British Columbia. View less ▲
December 24, 2014 | Why I Support Special Olympics
Friends before Coach
By Tara Power
2010 came as any other year would, with the promise I would accomplish and change and become a better me. The only thing different about 2010 is that my life was about to change forever.View Story ▼2010 came as any other year would, with the promise I would accomplish and change and become a better me. The only thing different about 2010 is that my life was about to change forever. I started work with a young girl my age and we became the best of friends, sisters you could say, who by chance was also a Special Olympics athlete. After only a short amount of time I became a volunteer, only a year later I became a coach. I laughed, I cried, I've had the best time of my life. I quickly came to realize that while I helped the Special Olympics athletes, they were helping me. I had new meaning to my life, I had another reason to wake up in the morning. I now had purpose, and I belonged to something much bigger. A family. I thank God every day that he has given me the chance to make a difference in so many lives, and I thank him for giving me the chance to become the friend of the one person who would change my life forever.
Coach with SOCB
Head coach Young Athletes Corner Brook
About Tara Power:View less ▲
December 24, 2014 | Europe Eurasia: Poland
Ski Camp in Zapone gave important life lesson
By Cristian Turcan
Thank you to all the organisers!
This year, me and my son, Alexander, took part for the first time at an event organized by Special Olympics in ski camp at Zakopane – Poland. Here we learnt that being different does not mean better or less good, but simply different.View Story ▼This year, me and my son, Alexander, took part for the first time at an event organized by Special Olympics in ski camp at Zakopane – Poland. Here we learnt that being different does not mean better or less good, but simply different.
The fact that Alexander was able to put the skis on his feet, like any other child, that he was excited about the snow, the air, the move was for us the best gift for the Christmas holidays. Not athletic performance gave necessarily the measure of this project, but the human performance of organizers and volunteers who have been with the children on the sky slope and activities room. Encouragement and support received by the children, they offered them invaluable support to move forward and to overcome limitations.
Each day spent in the camp was a life lesson for all present and we hope to be for all who learn about this wonderful project. I've learned that love and understanding is the universal language, no matter what country you live.
About Cristian Turcan:I am a father of Special Olympics young athlete Alexander.View less ▲
December 19, 2014 | Why I Support Special Olympics
Special Olympics turned my daughter into an athlete
By Karen Reznek
When my daughter attended her first swim practice, the coaches referred to the swimmers as athletes. Her sister used to be a competitive gymnast, so my daughter knew that athletes spend many hours training, and are always trying to get better. So she started training for hours (up to 20 a week), andView Story ▼When my daughter attended her first swim practice, the coaches referred to the swimmers as athletes. Her sister used to be a competitive gymnast, so my daughter knew that athletes spend many hours training, and are always trying to get better. So she started training for hours (up to 20 a week), and keeps pushing herself to get better. And she turned herself into an athlete, by any definition. She is trim, fit, and a dynamite swimmer and power lifter.
Thank you, Special Olympics, for all you have done for my daughter.
About Karen Reznek:Proud parent of a daughter who will be swimming for Team USA!View less ▲
December 17, 2014 | Latin America: Puerto Rico
Special Olympics and Lions Clubs Play Unified in Puerto Rico
By David Evangelista
As spectators streamed into a sports complex in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the inaugural event of the 2014 Lions Clubs International USA/Canada Forum, it was clear that something unique was about to happen.View Story ▼As spectators streamed into a sports complex in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the inaugural event of the 2014 Lions Clubs International USA/Canada Forum, it was clear that something unique was about to happen. Two Unified basketball teams – made up of Special Olympics Puerto Rico athletes and Leos from Puerto Rico – took the court sporting new uniforms adorning the logos of two organizations dedicated to ensuring that basketball was just the start.
The game highlighted the exciting expansion of the organization’s partnership, “Mission: Inclusion”, which provides key vision care and health services to Special Olympics athletes and promotes inclusive sports programming among their global Leo youth network.
“It’s fantastic what we are seeing here this evening. Together, we are creating new ways to serve our communities, and demonstrate the power that youth can have in charting this course,” said Joe Preston, President of Lions Clubs International.
About David Evangelista:I am the Vice President of Global Development and Government Relations at Special Olympics.View less ▲
December 15, 2014 | Africa: Kenya
Learning from Special Olympics athletes
By John Onani
Myself trying to make a shot.
At first I was apprehensive because before then I had never interacted with any individual with intellectual disabilities.
But on the first day of training all my fears and misconceptions were erased by the great experience I had.View Story ▼I was invited to join the Special Olympics Kenya University of Nairobi club by my classmate who was already a unified partner.
At first I was apprehensive because before then I had never interacted with any individual with intellectual disabilities.
But on the first day of training all my fears and misconceptions were erased by the great experience I had. I discovered that individuals with intellectual disabilities are just like me, they have dreams and desires and given the opportunity they can as well shine like any other young person. Since then I have made lasting friendship with my teammates with intellectual disabilities, actually I have noticed that they also value our friendship and therefore I should not take them for granted.
Above the friendship and changed attitude I have learnt many important virtues from Special Olympics athletes, I have learnt determination, consistency and patience. I can say I have become a better person since I joined Special Olympics Kenya.
About John Onani:My name is John Onani,I'm 20 years old and I'm a basketball unified partner at the university of Nairobi Special Olympics Kenya club.I joined Special Olympics Kenya this year.View less ▲
December 01, 2014 | Africa: South Africa
Tom Lugg is truly an inspirational athlete
By Mrs Igna Steyn
We are fortunate to be able to share the story of one amazing athlete, Mr. Tom Lugg. Tom was very close to being a recluse growing up until he was introduced to Special Olympics at age 11, when he had Golf Sports Specific training. His late coach Mr. Steven Snyman saw raw talent and took over his basic coaching for four years.View Story ▼ Special Olympics give athletes the platform to grow and transition to reveal their true potential through the power of sports. Sports is a universal language that brings everyone together in a common goal to have fun, have tolerance and respect regardless of who you are!
We are fortunate to be able to share the story of one amazing athlete, Mr. Tom Lugg. Tom was very close to being a recluse growing up until he was introduced to Special Olympics at age 11, when he had Golf Sports Specific training. His late coach Mr. Steven Snyman saw raw talent and took over his basic coaching for four years.
In 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, he hit his first practise shot and won the four round events by four shots.
In 2009 Tom was invited to Taipei to compete in an elite event, he shot his first and only to date hole in one in the first round and won the 54 hole tournament by one shot .
He kept doing extraordinarily well and in the 2011 World Summer Games in Athens he won by 26 shots over 72 holes. This was the same year that he sadly lost his mentor, coach and friend.
In 2013 Tom was invited to participate in the Special Olympics Asia Pacific masters in Macua, a development and skills competition with a mentor golfer and athlete. Toms shot a remarkable 76 and 73 on the Caesars Golf Course and received a gold medal.
In the same year Tom was the first Special Olympics golfer to qualify on merit for any national event at the Sanlam South Africa Amateur Championship.
In 2014 he went back to Macau and but unfortunately this time he lost with two shots. However he won the level 5 gold medal competing against mainstream golfers.
Tom has won a super golf day at Kyalami Golf Course with a partner; he has helped the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) with coaching at the annual Special Olympics South Africa Golf Day and recently got his first job at Copperleaf Golf Course as part of the maintenance team!
About Mrs Igna Steyn :I am the Special Olympics South Africa CEO View less ▲
Decades of sports for people with intellectual disabilities.Learn More ››
Who We Are
athletes, families, celebs, volunteers and more.See Slideshow ››
About Special Olympics in North America
Your Donation Matters
Special Olympics transforms athletes’ lives through the joy of sport. Help us make a difference.
Volunteer Near You
Volunteering with Special Olympics is fun and very rewarding, for both the athlete and the volunteer!