People have asked me- Why have I been so involved in Special Olympics? There is a myriad of reasons. As a teenager, I volunteered with individuals with special needs at an after-school program with the girl scouts. In 1970 as a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut in Physical Education, I worked at Mansfield State Training School in the Recreation Department. They hosted Connecticut’s first Special Olympic Chapter Games and I was a volunteer there. Fast forward to 1980 and with a Graduate Degree in Special Education and as the Head Women’s Gymnastics Coach at the George Washington University, I went into SOI & had a discussion with Tom Songster, the Director of Sports. That began my decades long involvement with the Gymnastics Program for Special Olympics.
I believe in the philosophy and mission of Special Olympics. The platform is expansive and inclusive. We have integrated sports with health, education, socialization, fitness and built a community of respect. It is fulfilling to be a part of something that does not judge people. I have witnessed the joy, success, and confidence expressed by many gymnasts, coaches, parents & volunteers. I have received a lot more from being a part of Special Olympics than I have given. It is fulfilling to be surrounded by such positive energy.
I have been involved in Special Olympics on the local, state, national and international levels. I have headed up committees to rewrite the gymnastics rules, (designed for progressive skill levels), judging sheets and filmed the compulsories. I have coached SO athletes in gymnastics on the local level & trained many coaches on how to work with Special Olympians. I have assisted in running many Local, National, and International Games. Most importantly, I have witnessed the joy on gymnast’s faces, the applause from friends and family, and the friendship and support by many people.
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.
An article from the New York Times in 1995, titled “Special Athletes Play Up the True Olympic Ideals:”
“The mentally impaired athletes of the Special Olympics embrace their games as a hiatus from their constant war- the struggle to gain acceptance and respect in their everyday lives. Differences of color, religion and politics are not germane to Special Olympians. They have a mission: “To develop fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.” And that’s what they have done- without incident- for 27 years.” Diana Nyad
They continue to achieve these ideals and goals to this day.
Achieving one’s personal best regardless of ability level is a core Special Olympics Principle. To that end, athletes are divisioned by skill and each athlete, whether they score a high score or a low one, will try for their personal best and are valued and recognized equally.
Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is a global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. We foster acceptance of all people through the power of sport and programming in education, health, and leadership. With more than six million athletes and Unified Sports partners in over 190 countries and territories and more than one million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year.