Special Olympics Florida

Special Olympics USA Games coming to Orlando in 2022

Written by:   Gray Rohrer Contact Reporter, Orlando Sentinel

Orlando will host the Special Olympics USA Games in 2022, the state program said Tuesday in the Capitol, alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody and two dozen Special Olympics athletes.

“I’m proud of us being able to host the games in 2022,” DeSantis said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for athletes, volunteers, coaches, particularly those who call Florida home.  And it will help economic activity in our state, you better believe that.”

Sherry Wheelock, president and CEO of Special Olympics Florida, said Orlando beat out five other cities to host the event, but she didn’t name which cities. Orlando’s large amount of venues, access to waterways and theme parks put the city over the top, she said.

“There’s just a lot of potential from venues, and I think it’s going to be a great family-friendly place, a destination to bring athletes,” Wheelock said.

Special Olympics USA Games is a competition for athletes with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, with events including basketball, bowling, soccer, tennis, golf and swimming.

The USA Games began in 2006 and are held every four years. Last year’s event was held in Seattle, drawing in more than 15,000 volunteers and 4,000 athletes competing in 14 sports, according to the event’s website.

“The [Special Olympics] program has allowed me to build confidence in myself and always to believe that no matter what I can achieve my dreams,” said Maryann Gonzalez, a veteran of four Special Olympics USA Games, five Special Olympics World Games, and an assistant with Special Olympics Florida.  Beginning in 1980, she’s competed in track and field, basketball, volleyball and softball events for the games.

“Growing up in foster care was not always easy, however, I dedicated my focus on excelling in sports and being a positive member of my team,” she said, adding that she’ll receive a degree in computer science this May.

The games will be held June 5 through June 12 in 2022.

The event is “more proof that our region has become a premier sports event destination,’’ said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in a statement. “The games will bring thousands of visitors to Central Florida, bolstering our economy by filling our restaurants, shops and hotels. But more importantly, the games will give us the opportunity to welcome and host some of the most inspiring athletes in the country.’’

Specific venues will be unveiled in April, but organizers are eying ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex, which often hosts large sporting events.  Wheelock added that Camping World Stadium, the Orlando City Soccer stadium or another downtown Orlando venue are being considered for the opening ceremonies.

Wheelock cited a Visit Orlando study showing the event is estimated to bring $69 million in economic impact to the region.

Wheelock also touted that her group has hit a milestone of 50,000 athletes in the state of Florida alone.