An Extraordinary Year

Dear Champions,

Thank you for making 2022 an extraordinary year for the athletes and families of Special Olympics Florida. It was truly a milestone year, as we celebrated our 50th anniversary and hosted the Special Olympics USA Games. 

Below, I have included some of the highlights and two videos capturing our most memorable moments. I hope you find them as inspiring as we do.
A Milestone Anniversary

Throughout 2022, we celebrated the founding of Special Olympics Florida, honoring those who came before us and those who make our work possible today. Anchored by a dedicated 50th anniversary website, the year-long celebration featured a glittering Champions Gala and highlighted our continuing mission to build a world of inclusion and acceptance.

2022 Special Olympics USA Games logo
Special Olympics USA Games

Nearly 5,000 athletes from across the country and the Caribbean came to Orlando in June for the Special Olympics USA Games. After a magical opening ceremonies – featuring 500 performers and Grammy winner Sara Bareilles – athletes spent a week showing the world that people with intellectual disabilities will achieve amazing things – if they are just given the chance. 

Team Florida turned in a dominant performance, capturing more than 325 medals, 139 of them gold. A huge thank you to the sponsors and volunteers who made it possible. 

View our photo gallery.

Breaking Boundaries 

In 2022, Special Olympics Florida athletes and Unified partners continued to make headlines and shatter expectations. For example: 

  • Athlete Chris Nikic was inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame and became the first athlete with Down syndrome to be sponsored by Adidas
  • The Special Olympics College Club at the University of Florida was named National Champion of the Special Olympics Virtual College Rivalry Championship, presented by ESPN. 
  • Athlete Kamari Graham, of Homestead Senior High School, was chosen Special Olympics Athlete of the Year by USA Today. 

2022 State Games
Inspiring Competitions 

We held more than 230 competitions, including the State Summer Games, which drew nearly 2,000 athletes. In addition, the expansion of regional games throughout the state provided an elevated competition experience for more athletes at the local level. We staged six other State Games drawing more than 2,800 athletes and hosted 600 athletes at the USA Games Training Camp in March. In total, we served approximately 60,000 athletes across the state in 2022 – including those in our Developmental Sports Programs.

None of these events and competitions would have been possible without the incredible work of volunteers all across Florida. The unselfish and dedicated service by so many has made an immeasurable impact on our programs, our athletes, and our mission.

Athlete Leadership 

As part of our commitment to Athlete Leadership, we produced two sets of videos: The first is a series of five videos profiling Athlete Leaders and highlighting the different roles they play. The second is a training video that helps Athlete Leaders speak with the media. It features athletes Jacquie Clare and Ricky Dager and television journalists Kelly Blanco and Jim Payne. 

Amazing Partners 

We are so fortunate to be supported by a spectacular – and committed – group of sponsors and partners. You can read about them all here. The list includes Publix Super Markets – which hosts our upcoming Torch Icon Campaign, and our friends in law enforcement. In 2022, the Law Enforcement Torch Run raised a record amount of funds for Special Olympics programs around the world. In addition, the remarkable Orlando Health team was instrumental in helping us provide more than 19,000 critical health screenings for our athletes.

Special Stars
Connecting Across the World 

To support Special Olympics athletes displaced by the war in Ukraine, Special Olympics Florida helped launch Special Stars, a sports club serving Ukrainian refugees with intellectual disabilities now living in Slovakia. We provided financial and programmatic support and, later, took a small group of athletes to Slovakia to connect with their overseas’ counterparts. The effort was largely initiated by our athletes.   

Expanding Camp Shriver 

In partnership with the Community School of Naples and the Naples Children & Education Foundation, we launched the first-ever Camp Shriver in Collier County. Camp Shriver is an inclusive camp that brings together young people with and without disabilities. It was created by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the 1960s and marked the beginning of the Special Olympics movement. We also offer Camp Shriver in Orange County and at two locations in Miami-Dade.

Race For Inclusion
Racing for Inclusion (Again)

Year two of the Race for Inclusion was bigger and better than year one. The annual campaign grew from six to nine events, drew more participants and raised more money to support the athletes of Special Olympics Florida. This year’s campaign featured events from Key West to Pensacola and furthered our efforts to build communities of inclusion and acceptance. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters and sponsors – and the work of our athlete ambassadors – the campaign raised the campaign more than $500,000.

Thank you again for being part of our mission. Together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. 

Sherry Wheelock
President & CEO, Special Olympics Florida