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In Uganda, "Because of Special Olympics, I am Somebody"

When Florence Nabayinda was diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, her mother ran away. Her father treated her harshly and she grew up amid violence and neglect in a rural Uganda village.

An Opportunity

Florence Nabayinda of Uganda found a place in Special Olympics.

Florence slept on the ground, and night after night she fought off insect-born disease, flu and abuse from relatives who did not understand her disability. The young girl could not look for help from others in Masaka village, where school officials called her “useless” and “unteachable.”

But a brighter future lay ahead. Another family took pity on her, and adopted Florence when she was a young teenager. They helped to get her back to school, even though she attended class with small children half her age. They also suggested she take part in Special Olympics. 

She Can Run

For the first time, Florence was able to do something other children could do: run! She raced and grew strong and received compliments. People were smiling at her and congratulating her – an amazing new experience after a lifetime of scolding, mockery and abuse.

“Because of Special Olympics, I am somebody,” Florence says, looking back on it all. She trained as a long-distance runner and competed in the Special Olympics Tanzania 10K, and a half-marathon at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in 1999, receiving gold medals at both races.

A Bright Future

After a difficult childhood, Nabayinda found strength, courage and persistence in herself.

“Growing up, I felt I could do nothing in life – [I was] thrown away like trash, ridiculed as ‘stupid’, and forced to quit school,” Florence explains. “But when I ran a race, I was somebody, and through running and Special Olympics I found my voice.”

 Florence has been using that voice ever since – not only as a representative for Uganda at the Special Olympics World Games, but also as a global spokesperson for the Special Olympics movement. She has now been involved with Special Olympics for more than 10 years and currently works at the Special Olympics Uganda headquarters. She has also adopted a child, and her dream is to one day serve in the Parliament.