The following blog post comes from Kate McKenna, who does editorial and multimedia production for Special Olympics. Like all of us who have the honor of working for Special Olympics, Kate is truly amazed by our athletes and their stories of achievement and success.  

Here at Special Olympics, we see lots of highlights throughout the year, from all over the world – as our athletes shine in local competitions, state and national games, and yes, World Games. To us, each and every Special Olympics athlete and event is important. What’s inspiring is that we’re not the only ones who recognize the success of our athletes.

You’ve probably seen these articles in your local paper or favorite news site, and never really thought about it:  stories with headlines such as TOP TEN SPORTS EVENTS OF 2011 or even TOP STORIES OF 2011. In the past, these roundups focused on “mainstream” sports stars and events. But more and more, these year-end highlights are also featuring Special Olympics athletes:

  • In the U.S. heartland, the Topeka Capital-Journal wrote all about Special Olympics athlete Brady Tanner and his 2011 achievements, which earned him praise as a “distinguished Kansan” in the paper’s year-end edition. In Massachusetts, the Barnstable Patriot named “champion equestrienne” Zander Pope’s gold medal win at the World Summer Games among the highpoints of 2011, describing this special athlete’s victory as “especially inspiring.” And in Newfoundland, Canada, Jackie Barrett’s powerlifting feats made it into the local paper’s Top 10 Sports Highlights – coming in at No. 3, in fact.
  • Then of course, there’s The Atlantic magazine, which featured a Special Olympics swimmer in its “2011: The Year in Photos.” The shot shows Ciara Trait striking a pose after winning the 25-meter backstroke in Athens.  Our athlete’s photo was featured alongside those of world leaders and astronauts, rescuers and refugees, as well as tragic  images of violence and disaster. But Ciara’s picture sends a hopeful message amid those grimmer images, as she radiates both empowerment and joy in her own understated fashion.
  • Even in places where people with intellectual disabilities can face strong prejudice, there has been admiring attention. In Cairo, the venerable Egyptian Gazette included Special Olympics athletes in its coverage of “2011 and its Sporting Triumphs.” And in Pakistan, a country of nearly 200 million people, the Express Tribune recognized just six people “who made a major impact on Pakistan sports in 2011.” Among that elite group: Adeel Ameer, a three-time gold medalist at the World Summer Games.

All the people reading these stories and seeing the photos have learned a huge lesson about the skills and determination of people with intellectual disabilities. That these athletes’ talents are recognized alongside athletes without disabilities is just another kind of “inclusion” – a very welcome kind. Our athletes are making their communities, their states and countries very proud.

This is a wonderful sign of the respect our athletes are getting – and a hopeful harbinger of more great things to come in 2012.

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