Our Athletes

Athletes are the heart of Special Olympics. Our athletes are children and adults with intellectual disabilities from all around the world. They are finding success, joy and friendship as part of our global community. They're also having lots of fun! 

Members of the female football team from SO Bahamas rush in for hugs after a victory

Be a Fan of Joy. Trenice Bell gives a victory hug to Shaniqua Newbold as more teammates rush in to celebrate. The moment came after a Team Bahamas win at the Special Olympics Jamaica Football Invitational Competition.

Who Are Our Athletes?

Everybody is different. Special Olympics is for people who are different because they learn new skills slowly. They may not understand ideas that other people learn easily. They are different in other ways as well. They have an intellectual disability, or ID.

Intellectual disabilities happen in all cultures, races and countries. The goal of Special Olympics is to reach out to the 200 million people in the world with ID.

Our more than 4.4 million Special Olympics athletes – ages 8 years old and up -- come from more than 170 countries. We also have a Young Athletes program for children ages 2 to 7.

At any age and in every country, our athletes are learning new skills, making new friends and gaining in fitness and confidence.


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

Everyday, Everywhere

Special Olympics trainings and competitions happen 365 days a year in more than 170 countries.

We offer 33 Olympic-style summer and winter sports. So whatever your age or skill level, Special Olympics has something for you. Many athletes start in one sport, then go on to try others.

Through sports, our athletes are seeing themselves for their abilities, not disabilities. Their world is opened with acceptance and understanding.They become confident and empowered by their accomplishments. They are also making new friends, as part of the most inclusive community on the planet -- a global community that is growing every day.

Abdel-Raman Hassan is an athlete whose life changed after he joined Special Olympics. He's a swimmer with ID from Saudi Arabia. He is also partially paralyzed. Yet he doesn't let anything -- or anyone -- put limits on his abilities.  

His talent for swimming did not come naturally or easily. Abdel-Raman's father says it took him a month to hold his breath underwater for three seconds. It took him a year to swim a distance of one meter. He did not give up. Abdel-Raman went on to win gold medals in 25- and 50-meter races at World Summer Games. He is a champion.


Not Alone

What is it like having ID? David Egan of Virginia says it can be difficult, but that joining Special Olympics helped him a lot. “It was hard for me to accept the fact that I have Down syndrome. But it became easier when I joined Special Olympics and I discovered that I was not alone.”

Over the years, David has taken part in soccer (football), basketball, ice skating, softball and swimming. He says the confidence he built through Special Olympics has helped him find and keep a job for the last 15 years.

From Athletes to Leaders

Through sports training and competitions, Special Olympics helps people with ID find joy, acceptance and success. As their lives open up, athletes gain the confidence that comes with achievement. They feel empowered. They are ready to take on new challenges to make use of their new abilities.

They can become mentors for other athletes. They can train to become coaches and officials. They can also move toward a more public role as a speaker or spokesperson. They can speak to audiences and journalists about the positive changes that Special Olympics helped bring about in their lives.

At Special Olympics, our athletes are empowered to share their many gifts and talents with society. Yet, it's more than that. Our athletes also become empowered to be leaders in society -- and teach us all about acceptance and understanding.

Stories Written by Special Olympics Athletes


October 16, 2014 | North America: Illinois

Getting Hooked On Special Olympics

By Eric Bauman

My Name is Eric Baumann, I have been doing Special Olympics since about 5th grade or 8 years old, and live the skills through Special Olympics.View Story My Name is Eric Baumann, I have been doing Special Olympics since about 5th grade or 8 years old, I started to do one sport, and that was Athletics (Track and Field). After That, I became a Global Messenger in Illinois in 2000. Then in 2003 I went to Ireland to get a silver medal in the standing long jump and ever since then, i went one to volunteer locally, statewide and even in other states like Missouri, and Nebraska for the 2010 national games in Nebraska, while that was going on, in 2008 I got to served on The Board Of Directors in Illinois. And just Got Hooked On Special Olympics, and live the skills through Special Olympics, and work,and where I live on my own in an apartment

About Eric Bauman :I am athlete for nearly 20 years 2008-2011 Special Olympics Illinois Board Of Directors Member I do 6 sports like, Track n field, Bocce, Basketball, Snowshoeing, Bowling and Softball Been A Global Messenger for Illinois since 2000
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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 10, 2014 | North America: New York

Looks don't matter

By lillian chaparro

It hurts my feelings when people stare at me and turn their backs because of the way I look and how I dress in public. To me its unacceptable and it hurts me badly.View Story It hurts my feelings when people stare at me and turn their backs because of the way I look and how I dress in public. To me its unacceptable and it hurts me badly. Looks do not matter, it's who you are inside especially from the heart. Jealousy is not the answer because I consider my fellow athletes and my volunteers my friends, because I care about all of them! my heart goes out to them. tThey are my friends for life!Thank you!

About lillian chaparro:I'm from new york I live in manhattan my whole life and have a loving family.
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October 09, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Pakistan

My experience as an Athlete Leader

By Jasmine Sharif Athlete Boardmember Pakistan

Me giving an PowerPoint presentation

I really enjoy being in the Athlete Leadership program. It gives me more confidence, I have made friends and I am able to speak more than before.View Story Hi my name is Jasmine Sharif. I have been involved in Special Olympics for 8 years as an athlete. In 2007, I became part of Athlete Leadership Program . In 2011 I went to Singapore for the athlete leadership conferences. In 2014 went to Malaysia for the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Input Council conferences and I was chosen as its co-chair person along with Ben Haack We had Health Ambassadors I really enjoy being in the Athlete Leadership program. It gives me more confidence, I have made friends and I am able to speak more than before. On the EKS Day, I also gave a PowerPoint presentation of Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver's life and the history of Special Olympics. Thank you Special Olympics

About Jasmine Sharif Athlete Boardmember Pakistan:My name is Jasmine Sharif I am an athlete Board member and serve on the input council for Special Olympics in Asia Pacific.
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October 09, 2014 | North America: Utah

STOP the R-Word!

By Gabe Lefler

I am so excited to get to my last class, which is Peer Tutor. I work with a really smart and funny boy. He has the best handwriting I have ever seen; it's perfect. He always makes his name fit on the page even if there is no room left. I love being a Peer Tutor.View Story I am so excited to get to my last class, which is Peer Tutor. I work with a really smart and funny boy. He has the best handwriting I have ever seen; it's perfect. He always makes his name fit on the page even if there is no room left. I love being a Peer Tutor.

About Gabe Lefler:I am 13 Years old. I am peer tutor. I go to Timberline Middle School.
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October 07, 2014 | North America: New York

We Are Beautiful

By lillian chaparro

I just started Special Olympics about one month ago and I'm very pleased to be an athlete and be with other athletes that I'm friends with and I'm getting to know.View Story I just started Special Olympics about one month ago and I'm very pleased to be an athlete and be with other athletes that I'm friends with and I'm getting to know. I'm honored to have people cheering me on even when I'm having tough times and when things don't go well. I'm getting support from my fellow athletes and from the volunteers. I'm very happy to have acceptance and respect from this great organization.I'm very proud to be an athlete! Thank you!

About lillian chaparro:I'm from New York. I've been living in Manhattan my whole life and I have a loving family.
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October 07, 2014 | North America: Canada

People on My Paper Route

By Meghan O'Donovan

When I used to deliver papers for the Stratford Beacon Herald, people on my paper route used to call me names using the mean r -word.View Story My name is Meghan O'Donovan. I am a Special Olympics athlete from Stratford, Ontario in Canada. When I used to deliver papers for the Stratford Beacon Herald people on my paper route used call me names using the mean r -word and I ignored it and hopefully there will be a end to the mean r-word.

About Meghan O'Donovan:I been working with McDonald's for 13 years of cleaning here in Stratford, Ontario in Canada.I enjoyed my job.
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October 03, 2014 | North America: Minnesota

Sports Everywhere

By janaya

I was in 6th grade when I first learned about Special Olympics and ever since that day my life has actually been amazing.View Story I was in 6th grade when I first learned about Special Olympics and ever since that day my life has actually been amazing.

About janaya:I'm graduating from high school
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October 02, 2014 | Europe Eurasia: Isle of Man

the r word

By Ethan

I have many learning problems and depression and because of my learning problems I get called that word a lot and it hurts and I feel bad so please dont use that word. it hurts a lot and it isn't right.View Story I have many learning problems and depression and because of my learning problems I get called that word a lot and it hurts and I feel bad so please dont use that word. it hurts a lot and it isn't right.

About Ethan:Im not anything so I just puit whatever for that part but I do like to run but I have a disability in my legs so its hard for me to do it
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October 02, 2014 | North America: Indiana

A Heart of A Champion...

By Kathleen Williams

Hello my name is Katie Williams. I'm 36 years old. I've been involved in Special Olympics 25 years and during the 25 years I've been competing in swimming.View Story Hello my name is Katie Williams. I'm 36 years old. I've been involved in Special Olympics 25 years and during the 25 years I've been competing in swimming.. I've also attended the 2011 World Summer Games. I was the first female at my first World Games to win gold for Team USA in Athens, and I also went to the National Games, and I won the national title in the 100 freestyle in a personal lifetime best. Special Olympics has changed my life. I've accepted to be a champion and I also take losing with pride and with a smile. I've been able to meet Olympic Gold medalist Ryan Lochte and show him my medals as well as his Florida coach Greg Troy. It's been my honor to be part in such a wonderful thing. I'll be helping welcome the 500 athletes to Indianapolis camp for 2015 World Games soon. I'm thrilled and excited and can't be more proud of Special Olympics. It's been my honor being a part of something great. Thank you all...

About Kathleen Williams:My Name is Katie Williams I'm 36 And I'm a Proud World Games Olympic Champion and Proud USA Games National Champion... I've been Involved in Special Olympics 25 years and I can't be More Proud to be apart of it and I Love the Athletes as they're Family to me I Thank the Coaches I've met along the way Who have given me So Much Pride it's been My Honor thank u all :)
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Special Olympics Blog

Suneedhi: a Girl, a Clinic, a Dream

For a dental surgeon such as myself, screening was just the first step! i felt we needed to go beyond examinations to ensuring people with intellectual disability got any treatment that they needed. I felt I could help more. read more »

Posted on 2014-09-22 by Lynn

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