Meet the Athletes

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    Lani DeMello: Proving Them Wrong

    She was born with an intellectual disability and a heart condition.  Doctors told Lani’s mother “just take her home; she’s never going to achieve anything.”  Today, Lani is a medalist in rhythmic gymnastics, thanks to her determination and hard work. 

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    Matt Montgomery: Acceptance

    Matt Montgomery has found a place for himself in Special Olympics Missouri.  His limited speech makes it hard for him to participate in his community.  But he can be himself at Sports Camp and Special Olympics events.  This gives him the acceptance he deserves.

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    Kerry Hagner: Community Leader

    “I have been participating in Special Olympics for 10 years.   I compete in basketball, swimming, Alpine skiing, horseback riding and cycling.  I love Special Olympics because I get to meet other people with other disabilities and become their friends, and I have fun in the sports that I play with my new friends.  I’ve also gained a lot of self confidence from participating in Special Olympics.  I’m now a Global Messenger and give speeches and media interviews all the time.  I am truly a leader in my community now and I am very proud of that!”

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    PJ Bernardis: Power of Sport

    PJ has been competing in Special Olympics for 11 years, winning countless medals in the sports of downhill skiing, swimming and tennis. His mother, Peggy, says: “Our son PJ has benefited beyond words from his involvement in Special Olympics! He thrives on the competitions and loves the attention he gets from the fans, coaches and volunteers. More impressive is the dedication, determination, enthusiasm, teamwork and cooperation he has learned from his Special Olympics experiences."

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    Jacque Mason: Caterpillar to Butterfly

    Jacqueline Mason is energetic, confident and outgoing. It is difficult to believe that before Special Olympics, Jacque was reclusive and too frightened to make eye contact.  Jacque's coach and friend Mary Jane says, "It's just amazing that Special Olympics has given her this opportunity to flourish. With each success, her self-esteem and self-confidence increase. Now, she goes to school, works and competes in two sports. The change is dazzling."

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    Mike Bailey: A Family Affair

    Mike Bailey was born with Down syndrome and has been an avid Special Olympics athlete since he was a child. His parents say that getting their son involved with Special Olympics "was most likely one of the -- if not the -- most important decisions we ever made for Mike."  Special Olympics also gave the Baileys an opportunity to form lifelong friendships and cheer for their son.

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    Sara Abbott: Beating the Odds

    When Sara Abbott was an infant, doctors said she would never walk or talk; she was not supposed to live past the age of 30. She has a rare genetic disorder, which results in intellectual disability, and is frequently associated with insatiable appetite, low metabolism, and subsequent obesity. Yet today, at age 37, she participates in Special Olympics sports and lost 150 lbs. Sara took home three gold and two silver medals at the summer Special Olympics USA National Games. 

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    Nicholas Vandenburgh: Inspiration

    Nick Vandenburgh started Special Olympics when he was 13 years old and competes in pentathlon, cheered on by his family.  He wins a lot but is always working to be better, to go to the next step.  His sister, Taylor, says “I am so proud of Nick!  He is an inspiration to me.  He inspires me to be great and to be better.”

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