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 seen as different because they may learn new skills slowly. They may not quickly 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 nearly 200 million people in the world with ID.

Our more than 4.5 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 32 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. (Read more about our International Global Messengers from around the world here).

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. (Learn more about Special Olympics Athlete Leadership programs here.)

Stories Written by Special Olympics Athletes


January 21, 2016 | North America: North Carolina

My Experience at the Special Olympics North America Tennis Championships

By Steven Smith

Steven Smith at the 2015 Special Olympics North America Tennis Championships in Hilton Head.

I was really excited about the Special Olympics North America Tennis Championships because I had never been to this tournament before.View Story I was really excited about the Special Olympics North America Tennis Championships because I had never been to this tournament before and had never been to Hilton Head. My mom and I drove down to Hilton Head which was about a five hours drive. We got there the day before the tournament and checked in at the hotel. Then we went out to dinner and walked around the plaza where the restaurant was and walked across the street to the beach. When we came back from the beach we had our dessert at an ice cream shop.

About Steven Smith:I am an athlete from Wilmington North Carolina.
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January 20, 2016 | North America: Iowa

I was Called Four-Eyes and Made Fun Of

By lisa

with friend that works with me

In the second grade, I was called four eyes and called the r word and in high school I was accoused of stealing money from two girls that shared a locker.View Story In the second grade, I was called four eyes and called the r word and in high school I was accoused of stealing money from two girls that shared a locker. Then my associate that worked with me thought I did take the money. I did not take it. Then they pressured me to say yes and they called my mother and she said I would't do that at all! Then the girls made me embarrassed and made me feel like I was not like the other people in the school. But please stop using the r word

About lisa: i am a person with special needs that works in the community at a pizza ranch restaurant that loves her job and likes the people around me
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January 11, 2016 | North America: Louisiana

My Story

By gabrielle cabrera

I'm 17 and I have autism. I get called the R-word a lot at school by a lot of people. I hate being called retard it makes me sad and it makes me want to cry all the time I hear that word. I wanted to tell everyone who has a special need that you are not alone.View Story I'm 17 and I have autism. I get called the R-word a lot at school by a lot of people. I hate being called retard it makes me sad and it makes me want to cry all the time I hear that word. I wanted to tell everyone who has a special need that you are not alone.

About gabrielle cabrera:i'm 17 and i have two brother i'm the oldest i'm the only in my family with a special needs
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January 11, 2016 | North America: Washington

Friend Among Friends

By Jacob Johnson

Special Olympics athletes are my fans and my family and so are the coaches as well.View Story My team is Thurston County thunder fish I swam year and got five or six medals. All that matters is that you have a friend by your side cheering you on, that's what matters. And have family by your side as well. Special Olympics athletes are my fans and my family and so are the coaches as well.

About Jacob Johnson :Well my parents say I swim like Michael Phelps what more can there be I'm happy the way I am loving my family around Special Olympics is all that matters go team Special Olympics and thunder fish and I also want say thank you to my family and put me in it thank you very much for having Special Olympics for us it's an honor
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January 08, 2016 | North America: North Carolina

Penny, My Story

By Penny Barnett

I was in the 1987 games. It's amazing to follow your dreamsView Story I was in the 1987 Special Olympics World Games. I did gymnastics. It's amazing to follow your dreams and meet new friends and meet celebrities and people cheering you on.

About Penny Barnett:My name is pennyB. I did gymnastics in the international games in 1987 and 1991
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January 07, 2016 | North America: Michigan

Winning the Healthy Athlete of the Year award

By Ben Dornoff

I became the first Healthy Athlete of the Year for the state of Michigan because I had a dream of one day getting the award and I worked so hard towards that goal and in the end I got it.View Story I became the first Healthy Athlete of the Year for the state of Michigan because I had a dream of one day getting the award and I worked so hard towards that goal and in the end I got it. It took a lot of heart and determination and hard work, and I trained my hardest and never gave up and I achieved my goal of winning it.

About Ben Dornoff:I'm 26 years old, live in Traverse City, Michigan, love sports and Special Olympics and like to spend time with family and friends. I am a huge Michigan State Spartan fan and Traverse City Central Trojan fan
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December 29, 2015 | North America: North Carolina

Changing my life

By Bradley Rice

Special Olympics of North Carolina had changed my life since I moved here in this state and it is almost ten years ago. This is my second hometown.View Story Special Olympics of North Carolina had changed my life since I moved here in this state and it is almost ten years ago. Starting in July 2006, back then I didn't have friends but I really loved living in Greensboro. This is my second hometown. I made millions of friends here. It is very important to me to have friends. I want to wish everybody in Special Olympics North Carolina happy holidays. See you in the brand new year of 2016. The athletes did great in fall tournament and I do want to say we all are very proud of our athletes trying to come out doing their best. Congratulations and keep up the good work.

About Bradley Rice:I still work at Harris Teeter in Greensboro but January 2016 will be my 1st year anniversary as an employee. I am still trying to lose a lot more weight to be out on my own again but I do have 50 medals at home and I cannot until summer to be able running 200 meter to keep my weight down more it is my favorite event also watching my dvd "Johnny Knoxville the ringer" because I love comedy
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December 29, 2015 | North America: New York

STOP labeling US!!!!!!!!

By lillian chaparro

People use the r-word for the wrong reasons! If they would walk in our shoes and see that we're special in all that we do every day, they would realize not to label people with special needs.It hurts so stop labeling us!!View Story People use the r-word for the wrong reasons! If they would walk in our shoes and see that we're special in all that we do every day, they would realize not to label people with special needs.It hurts so stop labeling us!!

About lillian chaparro:I like to play bowling and would like to try different sports.
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December 17, 2015 | North America: Alabama

Watch What You Say

By Danny Porter

One day me and my friend were walking home from school, and I have ADHD and dyslexia and I have to tell people not to say the R-word because it makes people feel like less than they really are.View Story One day me and my friend were walking home from school, and I have ADHD and dyslexia and I have to tell people not to say the R-word because it makes people feel like less than they really are.

About Danny Porter:Im funny smart and friendly
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December 04, 2015 | North America: Florida

Abigail Adams, Beautiful in a Different Way

By Abigail Adams

I love to model and act!

My goal is to promote the skills of people with disabilities through my acting, modeling, and advocacy. Everyone has something great to offer the world!View Story Everyone has something great to offer the world! My goal is to promote the skills of people with disabilities through my acting, modeling, and advocacy. I just left the Florida Special Olympics games at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports where I competed in gymnastics. I loved it! I won medals in several events and had a great time hanging out with my friends, staying in the hotel, and socializing at the dance. I love gymnastics! It is fun to get on the high bar. And play with my friends. Swimming is fun and it makes me feel good! I get to meet with my friends and go eat afterwards.

About Abigail Adams:Abigail is many things for many people, Eye-catching Model, Talented Actress, and Advocate for Down syndrome. But for everybody, once you meet her, you know you have met a truly beautiful person!
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