Meet Our Health Messengers

The only way to end exclusion is to have people who face these challenges daily help create the solution. People with intellectual disabilities are guiding us toward solutions in our health work. The Special Olympics Health Messenger program was born out of this notion of participation. In order to create more effective public health programs, improve health systems and engage communities to support the health of people with intellectual disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities must have leadership roles in the health system.

Special Olympics Health Messengers are athletes who are trained to serve as health and wellness leaders, educators, advocates and role models. They are leading their teams, families, friends and communities to pursue healthy lifestyles, and are advocating for healthcare providers and governments to adopt inclusive policies around health, wellness services, education and resources for people with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympics Florida has has trained athletes to be health leaders and advocates.  Read more about some of their stories below.

andrew ahearn

Andrew Ahearn

Andrew joined Special Olympics 12 years ago. He aspires to carry on the athletic legacy of his dad, a late US Navy SEAL, whose spirit lives on in Andrew. “Keep going, and never give up” is what Andrew’s dad used to tell him and this is what Andrew shares with his fellow athletes today. He became a Health Messenger to help others get into shape and chase their dreams.

Andrew's Tip: “If you want to stay healthy, keep going, keep exercising, stay hydrated, and eat fruits and vegetables.”

jennifer averette

Jennifer Averette

Jennifer has been part of Special Olympics for 32 years and counting! A few of the sports she currently participates in are stand up paddle, cheerleading, and shot put. Jennifer became a Health Messenger because she wanted to help other athletes eat right and exercise. For her, it was also an opportunity to reach her own goals of becoming an athlete leader and becoming a voice in the greater community to raise awareness that athletes with disabilities may need more medical attention than others. Jennifer helps to organize the county-wide MedFest that enables Special Olympics athletes to complete their physicals and screenings. 

Jennifer says, “I want to help all athletes become healthier and better.”

megan bell

Megan Bell

Megan has been a Special Olympics athlete for 21 years. Some of the sports she enjoys are golf and swimming, but her real passion in health and fitness is teaching Zumba and eating healthy. She chose to be a Health Messenger to help others be active and healthy. During the pandemic, Megan has been creating healthy tip videos and teaching weekly virtual Zumba classes that have reached an international audience! In preparation for her wedding, she formed healthy habits that helped her stay fit and lose weight.

Megan’s tip to her fellow athletes: “Keep a nutrition diary. Write out what you’re eating each day. Make sure you’re eating smaller portions, and eating a balanced diet.”

will breneman

Will Breneman

Will has been a Special Olympics athlete for 14 years and has competed in basketball, track, cycling, and swimming. After being encouraged by his family to become a Health Messenger, Will decided to take on the challenge as a way to become healthier and encourage others.

His tip to other athletes to help them be healthier is to exercise daily, drink water instead of soda, and eat lots of fruits and veggies.

summer browning

Summer Browning

Summer has been a Special Olympics athlete for 10 years. Her favorite sports are track, swimming, and bowling and she hopes to try cheerleading and equestrian in the future. Summer became a Health Messenger as an athlete with Special Olympics Alaska. She likes sharing information and helping people and says that she really likes the Fit 5 program because of how easy it is for people to understand and do! Summer says, “I think a lot of health stuff feels too hard or out of reach for people in their everyday lives, or hard to understand, so I like that Fit 5 is simple and straightforward but still makes a difference.”

Her health tip for others is, "Drink your water! It will make you feel better! Especially in Florida.”

Kristian Chima

Kristian Chima

Kristian has been a Special Olympics athlete for 17 years. He competes in bowling, bocce, softball and basketball and competed previously in golf. Kristian decided to get trained as a Health Messenger to help other people live a healthy and physical lifestyle. His motivation for naming healthy choices is to live a long life.

Kristian’s tip for other athletes to stay healthy is to, “eat lots of healthy foods!”

alex cooper

Alexandra Cooper

Alexandra has been a Special Olympics athlete for 20 years. Previously, she competed in volleyball and golf and she currently competes in swimming, track, basketball, and bowling. Alexandra decided to become a Health Messenger after recently losing weight and noticing improvements in how she feels. Now, she wants to share with other athletes how good it feels to be healthy. Alexandra’s passion in health and fitness is exercise and if she could give one tip to fellow athletes to help them be healthier it would be to find a friend to work out with!

Layla Crehan

Layla Crehan

Layla has been a Special Olympics athlete for 7 years and has competed in swimming, open water swimming, surfing, stand up paddle, track, basketball, volleyball, and alpine skiing! She decided to become a Health Messenger because she loves to stay active to help her physical and mental health. Layla is passionate about doing daily weight training, yoga, and meditation and encouraging other athletes to do the same.

Layla’s health tip for other athletes is, “If you can't swim, learn!  Swimming is the greatest exercise you can do for your entire body! And learning to swim will keep you water safe!”

Robbie Culliton

Robbie Culliton

Robbie has been a Special Olympics athlete for 15 years and currently plays golf and football. Robbie became a Health Messenger because it allowed him to advocate for other people with disabilities. As a Health Messenger, he has been an active voice in the community, speaking to local government officials and physicians about how we can all best help patients with disabilities take an active stance in their own health management. His passion in health and fitness and making sure everyone stays healthy.

Robbie’s Healthy Tip: “Exercise at least 5 times a week.”

Kate Davis

Kate Davis 

Kate has been a Special Olympics athlete for 12 years. She has competed in baseball, bocce, and bowling and currently competes in tennis, bowling, and equestrian. Kate decided to become a Health Messenger to learn to be healthier and teach others how to be healthier. Her passion is eating good healthy food.

Kate’s health tip for other athletes is to get outside and exercise daily!

Timothy Duquette

Timothy Duquette

Timothy has been a Special Olympics athlete for 15 years. He previously played basketball and currently competes in bowling. Tim became a Health Messenger because he likes being active and talking about health and wellness with others. He is a great role model for others.  Tim workouts almost every day and makes sure to eat healthy foods.

Tim’s tip for others is to be mindful about what you are eating.

daniel fundora

Daniel Fundora

Daniel is a certified personal trainer who focuses on how to work with people with disabilities to achieve their health and fitness goals. He first joined Special Olympics 21 years ago. Before Daniel realized the importance of health, he was very close to having to take medications for being overweight. Instead, he took charge of his health, began making healthier choices and lost weight, avoiding having to take medications. He chose to become a Health Messenger because he wants to help shape athletes and keep them healthy. Daniel has been teaching virtual fitness classes involving aerobics, resistance training, and strength exercises during the pandemic.

Coach Daniel’s Healthy Tip: “Being an athlete requires discipline and dedication. What is important?  Fitness, health habits, and nutrition.”

Maryann Gonzalez

Maryann Gonzalez

Maryann most definitely wins the award for who has been a part of Special Olympics the longest of all our Health Messengers; she’s been an athlete for 48 years! In the past, she’s participated in stand up paddle, athletics, and volleyball, but now participates in bocce, bowling, basketball, golf, and swimming. Becoming a Health Messenger was an opportunity for Maryann to advocate for other Special Olympics athletes. She works with physicians on developing best communication practices for patients who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Maryann’s Healthy Tip: “Eat less carbs and drink more water.”

Michael Gonzalez

Michael Gonzalez

Michael has been a Special Olympics athlete for 5 years. In the past, he competed in bocce and currently competes in softball. Michael decided to become a Health Messenger in order to teach others about how to stay healthy. His passion in health and fitness is to keep his muscles and body strong.

If Michael could give one health tip to fellow athletes it would be, “don’t give up trying to be healthy.”

nicole hogan

Nicole Hogan

Nicole has been a Special Olympics athlete for 17 years. She currently competes in basketball, swimming, bowling, and track & field. Previously, she competed in golf, cycling, volleyball, and bocce. She was inspired to become a Health Messenger to help others and is always striving to be better.

If Nicole could give one tip to fellow athletes to help them be healthier it would be to, “eat better and drink lots of water.”

James Holder

James Holder

James has been a Special Olympics athlete for 17 years. He has competed in track & field, softball, volleyball, bocce, bowling, snowshoe, basketball, soccer, golf and currently competes in swimming and stand up paddle. James decided to become a Health Messenger due to his passion for eating healthy and staying fit. He would like to spread the word for a healthy lifestyle to congressmen, senators, and his local politicians.

James’ Healthy Tip is: Stay away from junk food, read labels on food you eat, drink plenty of water, and exercise daily.

Dallas McClain

Dallas McClain

Over the past 13 years that Dallas has been a Special Olympics athlete, he has and continues to participate in golf, bowling, and powerlifting. Dallas became a Health Messenger to help others reach the realization he did about the need to make healthy lifestyle changes. In the past, he used to drink a lot of soda and eat unhealthy foods; he was overweight and had a hard time engaging in the activities he enjoyed. When he realized his unhealthy eating habits, he made the necessary lifestyle changes: stopped drinking soda, started watching what he ate, began exercising, and lost 65 pounds as a result! As a Health Messenger, he hopes to share his experience with others and show them how important it is to keep their health in check.

Dallas’ Healthy Athlete Tip: “Exercise regularly, and eat good food. Also, get health screenings as needed.”

Aarushi Pratap

Aarushi Pratap

Aarushi first joined Special Olympics when she was living in Texas four years ago. Since then, she’s participated in cheerleading, basketball, bocce, swimming, golf, and stand up paddle; her favorite sport right now is stand up paddle. Becoming a Health Messenger provided Aarushi with the opportunity to achieve her goal of helping other athletes become stronger and healthier through fitness and cooking healthier meals. Aside from sports, one of Aarushi’s favorite past-times is cooking. As a Health Messenger, she has filmed cooking videos on how to prepare healthy meals.

Chef Aarushi’s healthy tip for the kitchen is: “Eat five fruits and vegetables a day so you can grow and have a healthier life.”

tim rabbo

Tim Rabbu

Over the last 11 years since Tim joined Special Olympics, he has participated in a great variety of sports. He used to participate in skiing, softball, athletics, and bowling, but has since moved on to tennis, basketball, flag football, soccer, golf, and stand up paddle. Tim first heard about Health Messengers when he was in Athlete Leadership training. He has given virtual presentations to nurses about how healthcare teams can communicate more effectively with people with intellectual disabilities. He is passionate about encouraging other athletes to be more healthy.

Tim’s Healthy Tip: “Be sure to exercise regularly and drink lots of water.”

patrick rosser

Patrick Rosser

Patrick has been a Special Olympics athlete for 27 years! He competes in stand up paddle, swimming, cheerleading, basketball, bocce, tennis, pickleball, and track & field. Patrick was inspired to become a Health Messenger to help other athletes accomplish their goals. His passion in health and fitness is to see everyone meet their goals and become healthier athletes.

Patrick’s Health Tip: “Never give up if you fall.  Pick yourself up. You can do it!”

frank russell

Frank Russell

Frank has been a Special Olympics athlete for 8 years. Throughout that time, he has and continues to compete in golf, powerlifting, softball, and tennis. This year, he also began training for and competing in triathlons around the state of Florida. Frank became a Health Messenger because he wants to spread awareness of how important healthy choices are to other athletes. Making healthy choices is important to Frank in order to have more energy and stamina when competing.

Frank’s Health Tip is: To eat healthy and exercise every day and join the Special Olympics Florida Fit and Well Facebook group!

jacob sare

Jacob Sare

When Jacob first joined Special Olympics 21 years ago, he found hope. Being a part of Special Olympics and the Healthy Athletes program encouraged him to help other athletes, just as other athletes had helped him, leading him to decide to become a Health Messenger. Over the past two decades, Jacob has participated in a variety of sports: equestrian, basketball, and powerlifting – just to name a few.

If he could give just one tip to his fellow athletes on how to be healthier, it’d be: “Listen to your doctor.”

fletcher schaier

Fletcher Schaier

Fletcher joined Special Olympics nine years ago. Since then, Fletcher has played flag football, golf, basketball, and soccer. He became a Health Messenger because he saw it as an opportunity to be an athlete leader and is currently working towards his goal of becoming a Global Messenger. He worked with Bianca Belair, a professional wrestler, to create the “Apple Cracker Snacker” video as part of the WWE “Snack Down” about eating before working out. His passion in health and fitness is staying healthy so he can continue to play sports with friends.

Fletcher’s Healthy Tip: “Hydrate and do some exercise, no matter how much. Some is better than none.”

mary frances smith

Mary Frances Smith

Mary has been a Special Olympics athlete for 22 years and currently participates in swimming, tennis, cheerleading, and bowling. She chose to become a Health Messenger because she wanted to learn the skills needed to advise fellow athletes and friends on how to start and maintain a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise. As a Health Messenger, Mary can pursue her health and fitness passions; she leads a yoga group three days a week and creates videos on healthy recipes and healthy living tips.

Mary’s Healthy Tip: “Make sure to hydrate on a regular basis and don’t forget to add plenty of fruit and veggies to your daily snacks/meals!”