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

Are you or someone you know a Special Olympics Florida athlete who is dedicated to health?  If so, we can help you get started as a Health Messenger. Contact us to learn more.

Our Health Messenger Motto

We are Healthy Athletes. We are striving to promote better health. We are inspiring others to be active. We are all individuals with initiative in health. To advocate for all to live happy, healthier lives in the community. Most importantly, to love yourself.

andrew ahearn

Andrew Ahearn

Andrew joined Special Olympics in 2012. 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  since 1990. 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 since 2001. 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.”

Stacy Barnes

Stacy Barnes

Stacy joined Special Olympics Florida in 1998. In the past, Stacy was a softball, soccer, and equestrian athlete. Now, she dedicates her time to tennis and bowling. Stacy became a Health Messenger because she feels the need to be healthier and inspire fellow athletes to lead healthy lives. Stacy would give her fellow athletes one tip to help them be healthier: hydration is key!

will breneman

Will Breneman

Will has been a Special Olympics athlete since 2008 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 since 2012. 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 since 2005. 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 since 2002. 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 since 2015 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 since 2007 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 since 2010. 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 since 2007. 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 in 2001. 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.”

Leigh Ann

Leigh Ann Gray

Leigh Ann has been a Special Olympics Florida athlete since 1996. She loves bowling and swimming and started doing Bocce as well. Leigh Ann decided to become a Health Messenger so she can show other athletes how to stay fit and take care of their bodies. Leigh Ann is passionate about seeing other athletes care for themselves and stay fit. 

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 since 1974! 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 since 2017. 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 since 2005. 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 since 2005. 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.

Sarah Laloo

Sarah Laloo

Sarah has been involved with Special Olympics since 2015 and loves all the water sports, bowling and powerlifting.  She also participates in the Special Olympics Florida Fit & Well Facebook group.  She has more than 600 hundred posts and videos and connects with athletes from all over the state.  She enjoys being involved in other athletes' programs and workouts and has made so many connections.  Sarah's mom and Unified partner, Geeta, says, "This opportunity has broadened her dreams and goals beyond family and friends' imagination.  Special Olympics has given Sarah the opportunity to become a leader, and advocate, to speak out for herself and others and most importantly has given her the confidence to tackle any situation that may arise. Sarah is now a visible person in her own right, and this is all due to her participation in Special Olympics.  We are ever so grateful for her being a part of this program and community and an experience that can be enjoyed with family and friends from around the globe." 

Rachel Long

Rachel Long

Rachel has been a Special Olympics athlete since 1988. She has competed in gymnastics, golf, track and field, and pickleball and currently competes in cheerleading, bowling, volleyball, and basketball. Rachel decided to become a Health Messenger because she loves Special Olympics and it allows her to make new friends. Her passion is to teach, train, and show others how they can live a healthy life. Rachel’s health tip is to drink plenty of water and to practice Fit 5 every day!

Tim Long

Tim Long

Tim has been a Special Olympics athlete since 2016. He has competed in flag football and golf and currently competes in volleyball, bowling, and basketball. Tim decided to become a Health Messenger to help others live a better life. His passion is getting stronger. Tim’s health tip is to drink plenty of water!

Dallas McClain

Dallas McClain

Dallas has been a Special Olympics athlete since 2009.  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 in 2018 when she was living in Texas. 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.”

Carolina Puig

Carolina Puig

Carolina has been a Special Olympics athlete since 2014. She has competed in softball and track and field and currently competes in volleyball and bowling. Carolina decided to become a Health Messenger to keep a healthy lifestyle and help others to do the same. Her passion is workout out and helping her fellow athletes to be strong. Carolina’s health tip is to drink lots of water before, during, and after practice and to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables!

tim rabbo

Tim Rabbu

Tim joined Special Olympics in 2011.  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 since 1995.   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 since 2014. 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 in 2001, 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 in 2013. 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 since 2000 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!”

Marlynne Stutzman

Marlynne Stutzman

Marlynne has been a Special Olympics Florida athlete since 2010. She has participated in soccer, basketball, and track. Currently, she participates in triathlon, swimming, and flag football. Marlynne became a Health Messenger because she enjoys sports and leadership activities. She knows that a healthy diet and exercise plan keeps her performing at her best. She recently finished her first half marathon!

One tip that she would give other athletes would be to stay hydrated!

Ed Turner

Ed Turner

Ed joined Special Olympics Florida at the age of three! He previously competed in cycling, swimming, and bowling. Now, he loves equestrian and powerlifting. Ed learned about the Health Messenger program and instantly wanted to be a part of it. He loves to inspire and help his fellow athletes. Ed says, "Exercise and stay focused on your goals!"

Morgan Vandenberg

Morgan Vandenberg

Morgan has been a Special Olympics athlete since 2007. She has competed in bowling and currently competes in track and field. Morgan wanted to become a Health Messenger to live a healthy lifestyle and be a role model to other athletes. Her passion is working out and making healthy smoothies. Morgan’s health tip is to remember to drink water!