A Remarkable Year

Dear Champions,

Thank you for making 2021 an incredible year for the athletes and families of Special Olympics Florida. Below, I have included some highlights from the year. I hope you find them as inspiring as we do.

2022 Special Olympics USA Games logo
Going to the Games

To celebrate the one-year countdown to the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, Special Olympics Florida and USA Games enlisted the help of our corporate and community partners to make surprise announcements, telling athletes they were headed to the Games. Among the highlights:

  • Talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres surprised a Broward County athlete with the news during a taping of “Ellen.”
  • Former Orlando Magic star, Bo Outlaw, surprised two of our Unified basketball teams.
  • Jersey Mike’s, Orlando Health, our Florida-based major league teams, and Coca-Cola all helped stage announcements for other athletes around the state.

It was a fabulous kick-off to the USA Games’ countdown, and we are so grateful to the partners and supporters who made it happen.

Brave in the Attempt Podcast
Breaking Boundaries

In 2021, Special Olympics Florida athletes continued to make headlines and shatter expectations. Over and over, they proved that people with intellectual disabilities will achieve remarkable things -- if they are just given an opportunity. For example:

  • Athlete Malcom Harris-Gowdie launched “Brave in the Attempt: A Podcast from Special Olympics Florida.” In each episode, Malcom interviews fellow athletes and high-profile figures from the world of sports like ESPN’s Lee Corso and Super Bowl champion Mack Hollins.
  • Athlete Samantha Rodriguez completed both the Boston Marathon – running virtually – and the New York City Marathon, running in person. Samantha is the youngest woman with autism to finish the New York City Marathon.
  • Triathlete and Ironman, Chris Nikic won two ESPY awards: The Jimmy V Award for Perseverance and the Best Athlete with a Disability. Chris also published a book: 1% Better: Reaching My Full Potential and How You Can Too.
  • Champion paddle boarder, Layla Crehan, became the youngest person ever to attempt an 80-mile solo crossing from Bimini, Bahamas to Lake Worth, Florida.

Race For Inclusion
Racing for Inclusion

This year, we launched the Special Olympics Florida Race for Inclusion, a months-long statewide campaign and fundraiser to help foster communities of inclusion and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities. The campaign featured six in-person events -- stretching from Miami to Pensacola – as well as a virtual race for participants who could not personally attend.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters and sponsors, the campaign raised nearly $400,000. Our athletes played a key role in the campaign’s success, serving as advocates and race ambassadors. Plans for the 2022 Race for Inclusion are already in the works.

Return to play
Return to Play

As we continued to follow recommended protocols and social distancing standards, we were able to offer additional opportunities to our athletes to train and compete in person. Our State Equestrian Championship in the spring marked our first statewide, in-person event since the start of the pandemic. It was followed by six major in-person events, including Regional Fall Classic competitions and the State Golf Championship.

More than 2,400 athletes participated in those seven competitions.

Unified Leadership
Unified Leadership

Special Olympics launched the Unified Leadership approach in early 2021. It has two primary goals: help people without intellectual disabilities recognize the talents and leadership potential of people with intellectual disabilities; and urge them to create environments where people with ID are invited to fill key roles.

As part of our continued commitment to Unified Leadership, Special Olympics Florida added two athletes to our Board of Directors – Michelle Canazaro, from Broward County, and Tim Rabbu, from Manatee County. Both are Athlete Leaders with impressive credentials. Most importantly, both are passionate, compelling advocates who bring important insights to our discussions.

In 2022, Special Olympics Florida will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Over the years, we have fought to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities and create communities of inclusion and acceptance. We will spend 2022 celebrating the people who have made the mission of Special Olympics possible in Florida.

Thank you again for being Champions for our mission.

Sherry Wheelock
President & CEO, Special Olympics Florida