Meet Our Athlete Ambassadors

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We are not just athletes. We are the ambassadors of an uprising.

Peaceful protestors in rebellion against anyone who has a fear of difference.  Our demands are equality, dignity and a recognition of our shared humanity.  We will not stop or accept anything less. We are deserving.  When we compete we are fighting for a more inclusive world.  We are champions on the field and for this cause.  Today our world is more divided than ever and coming together has never been more urgent. The revolution is inclusion and it is not optional.




 

Chris

Chris Nikic

Home: Seminole County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 9 

Participates in: Triathlon, Athletics, Golf, and more

Chris grew up with people regularly telling him what he couldn’t do. Fortunately, he ignored them. In November 2020, Chris made history, becoming the first person with Down syndrome to complete a full IRONMAN race. That’s a 2.4-mile open-water swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon. He’s become an inspiration for people with intellectual disabilities around the world, and his story has been featured on ESPN, network television, and in The New York Times. Chris is now a sought-after motivational speaker. Ask him about his achievements, and Chris will happily tell you how Special Olympics Florida helped make them possible. It gave him a place to feel accepted and surrounded him with people who celebrated his abilities.  “Special Olympics’ gift to me,” he says, “was inclusion.”

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Billy

Billy Klingensmith

Home: Indian River County 

Years with Special Olympics: 8 

Participates in: Cycling, Swimming, Basketball, and more

Billy lives to cycle. He picked up the sport eight years ago, and, since then has been turning heads with his commitment and world-class work ethic. He won cycling gold medals in four consecutive State Games, taking home the top prize in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Last year, he conquered the Amerithon Challenge, cycling 3,521 miles -– the distance from San Franscisco to Washington, D.C. -- over the course of several months. He began in June, cycling 25-30 miles a day, mostly around his neighborhood. Billy, who’s set a goal of running 2,021 miles in 2021, says he wants to show people with intellectual disabilities can do remarkable things if they’re only given the chance.  “I'm trying to break all these barriers,” he said.  “Anybody in the Special Olympics can do this with the support of your family and friends around you.”

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Layla

Layla Crehan

Home: Broward County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 6 

Participates in: Stand Up Paddle, Swimming, Basketball, and more

Layla loves to compete. The challenge, the travel, all of it. She’s won multiple Special Olympics gold medals in swimming and is a Sunshine State Games gold medalist in Stand Up Paddle. She participates in eight different sports. But ask her what the best part of Special Olympics Florida is, and she’s quick to tell you: Making friends and finding a group of people she feels comfortable with. Layla has autism and wrestles with anxiety. But all that melts away when she’s around other Special Olympics athletes.  “We got involved with Special Olympics Florida because we wanted her to be part of a group,” says her mom. “We ended up getting a second family out of it.”

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Brittany

Brittany Tagliareni

Home: Seminole County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 13 

Participates in: Tennis, Softball 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by Brittany’s accomplishments: A top-ranked tennis player, multiple Special Olympics USA Games appearances, three Special Olympics World Games appearances, gold medal winner, honorary ESPY winner.  Her story has been featured on ESPN, Good Morning America, and The Tennis Network. It’s a remarkable resume and one that serves to inspire Special Olympics athletes everywhere. Brittany wants everyone to have the opportunities she’s had –- the chance to break barriers and upend expectations for people with intellectual disabilities. “My life has changed a lot since I’ve been playing tennis with Special Olympics -- making new friends and competing around the world. It changed my life completely and positively forever.”

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Analyssa

Analyssa Reed 

Home: Osceola County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 6 

Participates in: Young Athletes 

Analyssa has been with Special Olympics Florida for more than half her life. She joined Special Olympics Young Athletes at age 3, because her parents thought it would help her physically and developmentally. Through activities like balancing, running, jumping, and throwing Analyssa became more confident and independent. She began completing obstacles courses on her own and started to set aside her walker. Her mom says Analyssa, who has autism, Down syndrome, and epilepsy, made friends and learned about teamwork. Being part of Special Olympics Florida, she said, changed her daughter's life.  “With programs like these,” she said, “our eyes are open to endless possibilities.”

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Jacob

Jacob Sare

Home: Pinellas County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 16 

Participates in: Bowling, Soccer, Equestrian, and more 

Jacob has been part of Special Olympics Florida since he was 9 years old. He came to us as a basketball player, but a single sport was never going to be enough for him. Today, he also competes in bowling, soccer, bocce, athletics and equestrian. He serves as an Athlete Leader, a Global Messenger and a Health Messenger. He is a compelling speaker and an effective advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. He was our 2020 Athlete of the Year. Jacob understands and embraces the transformational power of simple kindness. Whether he’s helping his neighbors carry their groceries or encouraging a fellow athlete, Jacob is driven by his desire to help the people around him.

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Arushi

Aarushi Pratap

Home: Hillsborough County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 4 

Participates in: Bowling, Swimming, Stand Up Paddle, and more 

Aarushi is well known in her high school. She’s the young woman who draws, creates her own fashions, sews, and competes in some half-a-dozen sports. She’s constantly working on new projects, driven by an innate creativity that never lacks for ideas. She was one of nine students across the country to have her artwork integrated into the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games logo. In 2019, she created a custom gown for auction at a Special Olympics Florida fundraiser.  A part of Special Olympics Florida since 2017, Aarushi has competed in everything from bocce to swimming to powerlifting.   “I’ve made so many friends, and had so much fun,” she says. “Participating in Special Olympics makes me more confident.”

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Kenyatta

Kenyatta Johnson

Home: St. Lucie County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 19 

Participates in: Golf, Basketball, Tennis, and more 

Kenyatta’s skills on the golf course have taken her around the world. She’s been with Special Olympics for more than 30 years, competing in World Games in both Abu Dhabi and Athens. She’s become a coach and an advocate for people with disabilities, which is remarkable considering she was once a shy young woman uncomfortable speaking around other people. But Kenyatta says Special Olympics Florida helped her emerge from her shell. It gave her confidence and surrounded her with people who supported her. Special Olympics became her place to feel accepted and included...and that made all the difference. "My county coordinator used to say, 'When you came back (from the World Games), you were a different person,' " she says “Special Olympics is good, not only for the sports, but for learning about yourself and being around people where you can be yourself."

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Malcom

Malcom Harris–Gowdie

Home: St. Lucie County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 15 

Participates in: Basketball, Bowling, Golf, and more  

Malcom knows more about sports than you do. This is undisputable. The longtime Special Olympics athlete devours scores and stats for a sports report he produces every day. It’s all part of his long-term plan to become a full-time sportscaster. Malcom, who has autism and cerebral palsy, has already served as a special correspondent for CBS12 in West Palm Beach covering the New York Mets spring training. He’s appeared on Radio Row during the run up to the Super Bowl and was as special guest at the ESPY awards in Los Angeles. A competitor in basketball, bowling, golf, and athletics, Malcom was Special Olympics Florida - St. Lucie County’s Athlete of the Year in 2010. As a young boy, he’d watch games with the television on mute and do his own play-by-play. “I just want to have a voice and share my experience,” he says. “I want people to know anything is possible if you set your mind to it.”

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Andy

Andy Miyares 

Home: Miami-Dade County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 30

Participates in: Swimming, Tennis, Bowling, and more 

Andy is a world-class swimmer. Over more than two decades, he’s won hundreds of medals and set dozens of records. He’s visited the White House, traveled the world, and met swimming superstar Michael Phelps. But for as talented as he is in the pool, Andy is just as impressive as a Special Olympics Florida Global Messenger.  He’s spoken to audiences across the globe about the importance of inclusion and the benefits of staying fit.  He’s even got his own catchphrase: “Andy is my name, swimming is my game, and Special Olympics is my life.”  He shows everyone that people with intellectual disabilities are capable of incredible things, and he knows Special Olympics is about much more than sports. “It means old friends and new friends,” he says. “It gives me confidence and courage.”

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Victor Wright

Victor Wright

Home: Orange County 

Years with Special Olympics Florida: 4 

Participates in: Swimming and Bowling

Victor always had a pretty simple wish. He just wanted to be included – to be “just another cool kid.” But his Asperger’s diagnosis made that challenging until he found Special Olympics Florida. It gave him a place to fit in and develop his talent as a swimmer. A winner of multiple medals, Victor was the Autism Society of Greater Orlando’s 2019 Male Athlete of the Year. He now competes on his high school swim team, lettering in 2021. "Being part of Special Olympics Florida has boosted my confidence and made it easier for me to interact with peers who don’t have an intellectual disability." He’s become so well known in his home of Winter Garden, he’s developed a following on Instagram. Victor has fulfilled his wish of becoming “just another cool kid.”

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tristen

Tristen Bresnahan 

Home: Osceola County 

Years with Special Olympics: 14 

Participates in: Basketball, Softball, Swimming, Running, Triathlon, and Powerlifting 

Tristen Bresnahan has always been pretty powerful. At just two months old, he fought off viral meningitis. Ever since then, he’s been proving just how strong Special Olympics athletes can be. Today, he’s an elite powerlifter who collected three gold medals and one silver medal at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. He’s competed across the country, using those events as a platform to break records and shatter stereotypes about autism. Tristen is a successful college student, studying theater and drama online and carrying a 3.5 grade-point average. Ultimately, he wants to get his degree from a school like the University of Central Florida or Penn State. Tristen said, "I became serious about lifting several years ago to prove to people that I could be a very good athlete, just like competitors without autism."

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Nasif

Nasif Ali

Home: Miami-Dade County 

Years with Special Olympics: 18

Participates in: Golf, Basketball, Flag Football, Track and Field, Soccer, Swimming, and more

Nasif Ali is an all-around athlete. He participates in many sports, but he’s best known as an elite long-distance runner. In 2014, he competed in the Special Olympics USA Games and, that same year, made history: Nasif became the first Special Olympics athlete ever to complete the Miami Half Marathon, with a time of 1:58.

Off the track –- and the court, and the field –- Nasif is a Special Olympics Athlete Leader. He’s become an advocate for his fellow athletes and all people with intellectual disabilities, working to ensure they receive all the opportunities they deserve. "I know how happy I am being a Special Olympics Florida athlete,” he says. “And I want that for others, so they can get off the sofa and come out meet new friends, participate in community events, and learn new things."

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Harrison

Harrison Mauldin

Home: Okaloosa County 

Years with Special Olympics: 14 

Participates in: Athletics

Harrison Mauldin began running with Special Olympics Florida in elementary school, and he hasn’t stopped since. Sprints, middle-distances, long-distances, half-marathons. You name it, and there’s a good chance that Harrison has competed. Running and training helped him focus and put him on a path to improve his health and mental wellbeing. “Running,” he says, “is great for the mind, body, and spirit.”

He’s won his share of medals and ribbons, including two golds at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, and received the key to the city to his hometown. But he likes to focus just as much attention on promoting inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. "Everybody is human,” he says, “we should all be equally valued … I’m unique, like everyone else with or without autism … It’s like Dr. Temple Grandin stated numerous times: ‘I am different, not less.’"

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Sam

Sam Grosjean

Home: Santa Rosa County 

Years with Special Olympics: 8

Participates in: Basketball, Bowling, Athletics, Cycling, Swimming, Stand Up Paddle  

Just reading Sam Grosjean’s list of sports and activities can be exhausting. He swims, he paddle boards, he kayaks. He’s bowls, plays basketball, bikes, and competes in track. Not bad for a guy who is paralyzed from the hips down and has lived with medical issues all his life. Sam has too much fun to be held back. He’s fearless, willing to try just about anything and eager to challenge himself physically. He’s also a social butterfly who loves meeting people as much as he enjoys competing.

Being part of Special Olympics Florida helps Sam makes those human connections. He’s built a terrific network of friends and learned he’s capable of great things. Sam graduated from high school in June 2021 and is now studying culinary arts at a local vocational center. He’s had his share of challenges, but his mom says he’s faced them with a "happy, easygoing attitude.  He enjoys life, and the people in his life."

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