Special Olympics Florida honored the athletes, volunteers, and partners who make its work possible recently at a spectacular gala featuring music, dancing, fellowship, and fireworks.
More than 500 attendees celebrated the remarkable achievements of Special Olympics Florida athletes and reaffirmed their commitment to creating a world where people with intellectual disabilities are treated with dignity and respect. The Champions Gala, presented by Publix, was held at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate.
“Every day, Special Olympics Florida athletes are shattering stereotypes and redefining what it means to have an intellectual disability,” Special Olympics Florida President and CEO Sherry Wheelock told guests. “Their spirit is unstoppable.”
Based on the theme “Dream in Color,” the gala was a kaleidoscope of dazzling artwork, terrific music, amazing food, and inspiring moments. Special Olympics Florida athletes took center stage, helping to co-host, creating one-of-a-kind fashion for the gala’s auction, and, in the case of Pasco County triathlete Andrew Ahearn, capturing the Athlete of the Year Award.
“I truly love being part of the Special Olympics Florida mission,” Andrew said in his acceptance speech. “Together, we are showing the world that people with different abilities can do anything we set our mind to.”
The evening was hosted by Central Florida broadcast journalists – and Special Olympics Florida Board Members -- Meredith McDonough and Jim Payne. They were joined onstage by St. Lucie County Athlete Leader Stephen Lepore, better known as “Mr. Hollywood.”
At a pre-gala reception, athletes Marlynne Stutzman (Pasco County) and Adrienne Bunn (Marion County) received Local Hero Awards for becoming the first Special Olympics Florida women athletes to complete the IRONMAN course at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
Following the formal program, guests mingled at an outdoor after party – complete with fireworks – and danced at a colorful “silent disco.”
2023 Award Winners
Andrew Ahearn: Athlete of the Year
Wawa and The Wawa Foundation: Eunice Kennedy Shriver Award
Florida High School Athletic Association: Sports Partner of the Year
WESH 2 News: Media Partner of the Year
Amos Spires: Coach of the Year
Lance Duch: Unified Partner of the Year
The evening was made possible by the support of our generous partners.
Presenting Sponsor: Publix Super Markets
Platinum Sponsors: Anheuser-Busch, Disney, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble
Meal Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig
Entertainment Sponsor: Delicato
Mission Sponsor: CHEP
Valet Sponsor: Bentley Orlando
Reception Sponsor: Knights of Columbus
Auction Sponsor: Fanatics
Champagne Sponsor: Michael David Winery
Departure Gift Sponsor: Travel & Leisure
Fireworks Sponsor: TD Bank
Printer: Sandy Alexander
Fireworks Producer: Xtreme Special Effects
Florist: CDC Floral
Silent Disco DJ: Miles DJ Productions
Additional photos will be available in our Photo Gallery soon.