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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.

230 x 300 Snowshoeing in Korea

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


November 13, 2014 | North America: Wisconsin

Today my 12 year old son had his sister called the R-word

By Dan's proud mom

Parent teacher conferences today and the teacher shared a story that happened this afternoon. A classmate of my 6th grader, Daniel, called our daughter, Gemma, who has Down syndrome, the horrible, hurtful word.View Story Parent teacher conferences today and the teacher shared a story that happened this afternoon. A classmate of my 6th grader, Daniel, called our daughter, Gemma, who has Down syndrome, the horrible, hurtful word. My son reacted by defending her and admonishing the word. It did not go well, but the teacher supported Daniel and reported that the child's parents were informed and they were very embarrassed. Daniel stayed strong, until we got home. It is extremely painful to have these lovely people called horrible names. We talked it over and cried together and vowed to spread the word to end the word. It is a daily battle. I just ordered him a t-shirt and a bracelet--it can't get here soon enough! Thank you for keeping us strong!

About Dan's proud mom:I am a mom blessed with 2 wonderful, happy, loving children. One of them has an extra chromosome, but the only things I count are my blessings.
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November 13, 2014 | Latin America: Brazil

Being a partner

By Dalva Pompermayer

Dalva Pompermayer (partner) and Ruy Carneiro (athlete) from Special Olympics Brazil will be playing unified doubles in LA 2015

I am Dalva Pompermayer, 62 years old and I always heard about Special Olympics but I have never being involved before because I had to take care of my old mom and after her death, taking care of my sister with Alzheimer's disease.View Story I am Dalva Pompermayer, 62 years old and I always heard about Special Olympics but I have never being involved before because I had to take care of my old mom and after her death, taking care of my sister with Alzheimer's disease. But in my free time I kept playing tennis because I love this game where I could met my friends and distracted my head from this terrible desease that consumes us. And suddenly, I was invited by a very good friend to play a unified double with Ruy, the best tennis player with intellectual disabilities in Jundiai, SP (our home town) and I can affirm that he is the best tennis player in Brazil. At the beginning I was afraid to play with him because he hates to lose and during our first matches we were losing so many points, what made him nuts. After many other practices together, I have learned how to deal with his anger and now I can say that we are real partners. He respects me, one helps the other during the matches, we train twice a week and that opportunity brought me back to life.

About Dalva Pompermayer:Dalva Pompermayer, 62 years old, retired, a amateur tennis player and a Special Olympics lover.
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November 13, 2014 | North America: Pennsylvania

How I Became a Marathon Runner

By Ernie Roundtree

I was told that I can't do that because of my asthma and my disabilities I wouldn't survive. When I was 16 I started competing in track and field in Special Olympics in high school. Special Olympics Pennsylvania taught me to believe in myself.View Story When I was a kid my dream was to run in a marathon. It all started watching the new York marathon on tv and I told my biological family that one of these years I want to run the marathon. I was told that I can't do that because of my asthma and my disabilities I wouldn't survive. When I was 16 I started competing in track and field in Special Olympics in high school. Special Olympics Pennsylvania taught me to believe in myself and my coach Gigi told me, "Ernie, you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it." On 2014 of January I ran my first marathon at Disney World and finished at the time of 6 hours 24 minutes and 25 seconds. I was so amazed at what I accomplished. On May 18 2014 I completed it on my second marathon, finishing with the time of 5 hours 31 minutes and 28 seconds. I would like to thank Special Olympics Pennsylvania and my coach Gigi for teaching me to have faith in myself and I could do anything I can do if I can put my mind to it and not let my disability stop me from fulfilling my dreams.

About Ernie Roundtree:My name is Ernie Roundtree and I am an athlete and athlete representatives from Monroe County Special Olympics Pennsylvania
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November 05, 2014 | Europe Eurasia: Israel

"I got more than I gave!" - Unified Bowling teammate from Israel tells his story

By Marius Lybovitch

The Israel Bowling Federation formed a joint venture with Special Olympics Israel, where Special Olympics athletes play in the national league.

I signed up to Unified Bowling to give something back. Let me say one simple, yet, meaningful sentence - in this case I really don't know who is one the giving side and, who is on the receiving side. In the end I felt that I was given something special. The energy that I got from the Special OView Story I signed up to Unified Bowling to give something back. Let me say one simple, yet, meaningful sentence - in this case I really don't know who is one the giving side and, who is on the receiving side. In the end I felt that I was given something special. The energy that I got from the Special Olympics athletes via a smile or by cheer; fills you up with a sense of victory and unprecedented achievement. What is considered easy and straightforward for me, was nothing less than huge effort for the athletes. It was great will power and persistence, despite the obvious difficulties. I learned that one has to look over its limitations and disabilities and look straight ahead to the target. Although sometimes we see these athletes through their disabilities, they don't - so, who is the one with the disabled and limited vision? I'm looking forward to the next meeting, this time with a better understanding and respect to the athletes and to the Bowling Federation for this initiative.

About Marius Lybovitch :I am a Unified Bowling partner with the Super Strike Club, Israel.
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November 05, 2014 | North America: Illinois

My whole life story from the beginning

By Nick Joseph

Well it started when I was 9 years old. I started to play sports at that age. My Special Olympics sports are floor hockey, soccer, basketball and volleyball, so I was glad I played those.View Story Well it started when I was 9 years old. I started to play sports at that age. My Special Olympics sports are floor hockey, soccer, basketball and volleyball, so I was glad I played those. Special thanks to coach Dave and my others from 54. Coach Kelly and Coach Chris and Mike Storka. And now how did I get into Special Olympics? Well it started off as me going to junior high which is Frost and I wanted to try out for the basketball team for regular boys. Turns out though, that I was not good enough to play but that didn't stop me from playing sports. For my friends in Special Olympics, I say to you and people, "Read this and think that oh well why not give up", then well, I will tell you why not give up: because when finally you realize that you try be good at something you're not good at, you can't give up just because you aren't good at it. You practice and think what am I doing wrong and you tell yourself, "Hey I may not be the best but I'm trying to have fun. That's all you need to know. Have fun. Never give up or quit. Thanks.

About Nick Joseph:I'm an athlete who believes that you can improve your sports or anything if you try and don't give up at all. Thx
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November 05, 2014 | North America: Texas

inspiring people

By bridgette

Last year, I met Mary Francis and during my 50-meter race I saw her on the ground, so I stopped, ran back and got her up and we both crossed the finish line together.View Story i am Bridgette Thomas and I have been doing Special Olympics for 8 years. I started in 3rd grade and I have been doing it ever since, and it is amazing cause you get to make new friends and have fun at the same time. Last year, I met Mary Francis and during my 50-meter race I saw her on the ground, so I stopped, ran back and got her up and we both crossed the finish line together. I realized that winning isn't always important. It's about having fun with your friends and helping them out when they need it.

About bridgette:i am Bridgette Thomas. i live in Texas and i am a meet in the middle member at my high school i am 16 years old
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October 27, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Pakistan

Believing In My Dreams

By Haseeb Abbasi

At National Games 2014 Karachi

Special Olympics Pakistan has broken the most difficult barrier of my life, my voice. Being autistic, verbal language was tough. My confidence to speak has improved tremendously since day one.View Story Hello, my name is Muhammad Haseeb Abbasi.I am sixteen years of age. I’m a proud Special Olympics Pakistan athlete. I recently went to Karachi to participate in Special Olympics Pakistan National Games 2014-2015. I took part in 10 km cycling competition and won a silver medal. To me winning or losing means you are still at the TOP, which is what Special Olympics, is all about. There is nothing to lose here. Special Olympics Pakistan has broken the most difficult barrier of my life was my voice. Being autistic, verbal language was tough. It was difficult for me to speak up for myself. My confidence to speak has improved tremendously since day one when my Coach Arshad Javaid believed in me and provided me with an opportunity on the stage with a microphone to introduce myself with fellow athletes of Special Olympics Pakistan. The biggest reward of my life from Special Olympics is that they have given me voice and I cannot imagine my life without Special Olympics Pakistan.

About Haseeb Abbasi:my story is above attached
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October 27, 2014 | North America: New York

one word-OVERCOME

By lillian chaparro

We can conquer all obstacles and not let challenges get the best of us on the issues we face every day of our lives. Special Olympics is the answer.View Story We can conquer all obstacles and not let challenges get the best of us on the issues we face every day of our lives. Especially on goals we want to reach.We have hopes and dreams on what we want to happen and come true! Special Olympics is the answer and helps our dreams come true and makes people we're close with very proud! I'm glad to be part of it. Thanks.

About lillian chaparro:I'm a very friendly person I like to get along with people and I have a loving family.
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October 14, 2014 | North America: Maryland

Adam Hays, the Cyclist

By Adam Hays

Adam Hays overcomes hurdles on Cyclocross event and in life with determination.

Special Olympics athlete Adam Hays joined his brother's cyclocross team, where his team viewed him as a cyclist, not as someone with a disability. "I now have a new community of friends that see me for who I am, not my label," Adam said.View Story Social interaction is very important. Especially to those with intellectual disabilities. For many years people with intellectual disabilities were treated with little respect and isolated. Then Eunice Kennedy Shriver came along and began Special Olympics and gave athletes a place to shine and feel respected in the community! This is where I met new friends and learned to cycle. I have been a Special Olympics Maryland athlete for 19 years and I ride 1,200 miles a year around my home town. My younger brother, Kevin, races Cyclocross, a crazy sport that involves a lot of all-terrain riding. One night he asked me if I would ever try Cyclocross. I said yes. He asked his coach if I could compete in a race. I not only competed in a race last weekend but was presented with a jersey kit from his team! This made me excited AND accepted because his team viewed me as a cyclist, not as someone with a disability. I now have a new community of friends that see me for who I am, not my label.

About Adam Hays:Work part time as Communication Assistant at Special Olympics Maryland. Athlete for over 19 years. Live in Frederick, MD
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October 14, 2014 | North America: South Dakota

My Little Sister

By Sydney Powers

1st Place Volleyball - 2014 State Summer Games

I didn't like knowing that my only little sister is different and she can't do things like I could. I kinda felt that there was something "wrong" with her but my family didn't know it till she was 8. Then, my whole world changed.View Story My little sister, Delaney, has autism. I used to distance myself from her because I didn't like knowing that my only little sister is different and she can't do things like I could. I kinda felt that there was something "wrong" with her but my family didn't know it till she was 8. Then, my whole world changed. She made me see that not everything works in one certain way. She got me involved in her life and now if I go a day without seeing her, I want to cry because that's just how much I love and appreciate her.I guess her autism was a blessing, kinda. She inspired me to get involved in Special Olympics AND become a volunteer/coach. She inspired me to set my goals for the future. It used to be impossible to go places and not worry about what Delaney would do, but now she a completely changed girl in the short time of just one year. To me, she is my everything. We are the closest of sisters as it gets and Special Olympics Brookings helped us to be this way. They are a part of our family.

About Sydney Powers:I'm a high school student at Brookings High School. I just got involved with Special Olympics Brookings in the past year (2013) and they are basically my other family. I love seeing the athletes in the hallways or around town because they are always so happy to see you to. I'm very glad that I'm able to be apart of this team.
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Our History

Decades of sports for people with intellectual disabilities.
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Special Olympics Blog

Sport and Tech Team Up for Good

Now, thanks to Microsoft, athletes, coaches and families will have rapid access to useful information about their scores, times, personal bests, fitness and health. Special Olympics can use this capability to dramatically improve the lives of people in our Movement.  read more »

Posted on 2014-10-27 by Janet

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