Celebrating Inclusion at the Champions Gala

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

You can read more about their accomplishments here.

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