Attending the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria was one of the most amazing Special Olympics experiences in my 43 years of being involved with the organization. Meeting athletes, families, and volunteers from around the world renewed my faith in humanity. Everyone I met talked about how Special Olympics has had a positive impact on their lives.
What started as a simple interaction and discussion about leadership between Tampa Bay Buccaneers star quarterback Jameis Winston and Special Olympics Florida athlete Jacob Sare, quickly turned into a moment of a lifetime for several dozen Special Olympics athletes.
It spread through the crowd like wildfire: “Can you hear it?” The “it” was the distant sound of sirens. This sound can often provoke unsettling emotions in people, but this time, it sent 4,000 athletes, coaches, volunteers, and spectators into a state of nearly unbearable anticipation.
As December 31st draws near, it is clear this has been a year of transformational impact for Special Olympics Florida. Our athletes are succeeding on and off the playing field and have a bigger stage than ever to showcase their abilities. Here are just a few of the highlights from 2016.
Cheers and excitement radiated from Starke, Florida, on December 9 when friends and family gathered around to watch 65 athletes compete for the chance at first place. The Bradford County School Board and Special Olympics Florida – Bradford County hosted their second annual School Roster track and field meet at Bradford High School. From 25-meter assisted walk to 100-meter relay, brave athletes pushed to do their best in every event they attempted.
With the holiday season upon us, 2017 is not far behind. New Year’s Day stands as a holiday that welcomes in a new year of opportunity for all. The opportunities are endless with a new year in mind, regardless of the set-backs in the previous year. It is a day that represents a new beginning for those who want it. Opportunities in the new year include healthy lifestyle changes in exercise, mental health, and diet.
The New Year’s resolution…we hear about it, talk about it, but do we ever actually pull through with it? 2017 can be the year of change for those who crave it.
In sports, success is often judged by an individual’s or team’s win record, but we believe that everyone is a winner at Special Olympics Florida. Athletes who train hard for competition and come away with a gold medal or trophy should be given the credit they are due, but we must also celebrate that success doesn’t necessarily mean taking home a win for everyone.
These last couple of weeks have brought some of the most amazing experiences of my life. I was given the opportunity to be a part of the Orlando City Soccer Club Special Olympics Unified team, and I was selected, alongside my teammate Cesar Aponte, to represent Orlando City in the MLS Works/Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Soccer Match. This experience included being flown out to both San Jose and Chicago, fully decked out in Orlando City gear, to compete with partners and athletes representing different delegations from all around the country.