Special Olympics Florida

Jennifer Barber

Certified Coach and Management Team Member, Walton County

I first got involved in Special Olympics after an amazing Special Olympics coach, Donna Qualitiere from Longleaf Elementary School in Pasco County, taught my son Jeffrey how to ride a bike. My husband nor myself, no matter how much we tried, could teach Jeffrey how to ride, but she could.  She wanted to show Jeffrey how to ride a bike, not just because his twin brother asked her to teach him, but also, so he could start competing in cycling. That following spring, Jeffrey competed in his first Special Olympics Florida state cycling event and he won gold! 

Our family relocated to the Panhandle in 2014, and we couldn’t wait to get involved.  Unfortunately, cycling wasn’t an active event for our county or even the area, so I contacted the County Director, and I became a certified coach for cycling. But I wanted to do more, I wanted get more involved, to do whatever I could to help Special Olympics, because it had already done so much for my son and my family. 

From there, I became certified in surfing and softball, but continued to volunteer with every sport my sons were involved in…golf, swimming, bowling, flag football, etc. I just wanted to support Special Olympics with everything I could.  I then became a member of the Walton County and Area 1 Management Teams.

What Special Olympics teaches athletes is way more than learning how to ride a bike or even play a sport.  It is teaching them how to live.  It teaches them life skills, social skills, but more importantly, teaching them to believe in themselves.  Having 2 athletes and 1 Unified partner involved with Special Olympics Florida, I see first hand how Special Olympics is changing their lives. The smiles, the hugs, the “I DID IT”, is nothing less than priceless, and I am so glad I can assist these athletes with making their dreams come true.