Thanks to your generosity and commitment, 2023 was an extraordinary year for the athletes and families served by Special Olympics Florida. Our athletes performed on the international stage, established new world records, and, once again, proved that people with intellectual disabilities will achieve amazing things, if they are just given the opportunity.
Below, I have highlighted some of our most memorable moments from 2023. I hope you find them as inspiring as we do.
A SUPER ACHIEVEMENT
In February, Special Olympics Florida athlete Malcom Harris-Gowdie fulfilled a dream – and made history – by working as a reporter and broadcaster at the Super Bowl in Phoenix. Thanks to a partnership with the sports and entertainment network FanSided, Malcom was part of the first-ever Unified reporting team at the Big Game. An athlete for more than 15 years, Malcom is an aspiring sportscaster who’s served as a special correspondent for CBS12 in West Palm Beach and a sideline reporter at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.“So many people think that people with intellectual disabilities can’t do certain things,” he said. “I’m here to prove them wrong and show them that you can achieve your dream.”
Several times this year, Special Olympics Florida athletes showcased their talents on the world stage. In March, two Special Olympics Florida athletes and a Unified partner took part in the annual Nevis to St. Kitts Cross Channel Swim, a 4.1 kilometer open-water swim in the Caribbean. Two months later, a group of triathletes and coaches headed to Slovakia to take part in the Special Olympics European Open Triathlon.
The team spent several days in the town of Samorin, where they met and
competed with athletes from nine other countries and Puerto Rico. “Even
though we didn’t speak the same language, we all smiled a lot, took
pictures together and cheered each other on,” said athlete Juliette
And in June,15 athletes and Unified partners traveled to Berlin for the Special Olympics World Games.
The Florida athletes included cyclists, tennis players, basketball players, and an open water swimmer. They joined members of Special Olympics USA and about 7,000 athletes and Unified partners from approximately 170 countries. Our athletes and Unified partners earned six medals and made memories to last a lifetime.
A STORY WORTH TELLING
Over the summer, a close-knit group of Special Olympics Florida athletes were featured in lengthy segment on HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. An HBO production crew spent weeks working on a piece about the Special Olympics Florida Triathlon Team. The crew made multiple trips to Florida to film the team training, competing, and hanging out together. The piece aired in July and examined how Special Olympics athletes use the power of sports to fuel the Inclusion Revolution.
“LET ME WIN …”
A busy slate of events kept Special Olympics Florida athletes fit, engaged, and ready to compete in 2023. Over the course of the year, we held more than 200 competitions from Key West to Pensacola – an average of about four per week.
The two biggest competitions are our annual State Summer Games and Fall Classic, which, in 2023, drew a total of more than 3,100 athletes and Unified partners and featured a spectacular opening ceremony. In addition to our signature competitions, we also conducted
health screenings around Florida. In total, we served
It was a great year for our Unified Champion Schools – as the total number across Florida grew to 479, surpassing the goal we had set for 2023. The program has tremendous momentum heading into 2024, and 16 of our schools have been recognized as National Banner Unified Schools. One of our Unified teams – the Alachua All Stars, a team formed by the Special Olympics Florida College Club at the University of Florida – competed at the Special Olympics World Games in Germany.
MAKING HISTORY AT THE KONA WORLD IRONMAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Adrienne finished first in her division and became the youngest person with autism to complete the race. Marlynne, meanwhile, became the first person with autism to run the Boston Marathon and finish a full IRONMAN. And both became the first female Special Olympics athletes to complete an IRONMAN. For their incredible accomplishments, Adrienne was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Big 12 Conference and Marlynne was named a Community Hero by the Tampa Bay Lightning. We also presented both athletes with Special Olympics Florida Local Hero Awards.
YEAH, I AM SPECIAL
Broward County athlete Joshua Olds was featured in a new Special
Olympics national campaign designed to reclaim and redefine what it
means to be special. Josh, 17, was one of two athletes featured on
billboards unveiled in New York City, as part of the “Yeah, I am
Special” campaign. A champion triathlete from Broward County, he has
already completed 17 triathlons and has countless swimming records under
his belt. You can watch a video teasing the campaign here. Visit imspecial.org to learn more about Josh and to order a limited-edition “SPECIAL” sweatshirt.
INTEGRITY & TRANSPARENCY
For the ninth consecutive time, Special Olympics Florida earned a four-star rating – the highest possible – from Charity Navigator. In fact, we scored a perfect score of 100 for Accountability & Finance, Culture & Community, and Leadership & Adaptability.
Thank you again for being part of our mission. Together, we can create a better world for people with intellectual disabilities.
In the spirit of gratitude,
Sherry Wheelock President & CEO, Special Olympics Florida