Special Olympics Florida Celebrates 50 Years of Transforming Lives

The organization, which serves nearly 60,000 athletes, marks its 50th anniversary with new events to engage Floridians and to highlight its commitment to improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 28, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Special Olympics Florida today announced plans for a months-long celebration marking its 50th anniversary of working to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. The organization – which officially turned 50 years old on February 21 – will celebrate this incredible milestone throughout 2022, with a series of marquee events designed to showcase the athletes it serves and inspire all Floridians to embrace the principles of inclusion and acceptance. 

Special Olympics Florida was formally founded in February of 1972 and, for 50 years, has provided year-round sports training and competitions to athletes with intellectual disabilities across the Sunshine State. Today, with the help of more than 38,000 dedicated coaches and volunteers, it serves nearly 60,000 athletes through its sports, health, and leadership programs. All its services are provided at no charge to athletes or their families.

“We are thrilled to celebrate our 50th anniversary and so grateful to the volunteers, coaches, and partners who have made this remarkable journey possible,” said Special Olympics Florida President & CEO Sherry Wheelock. “We have worked for 50 years to ensure that our athletes are treated with the respect and compassion they deserve, and we will continue our efforts to build communities of inclusion and acceptance all across Florida.”

2022 promises to be a landmark year for Special Olympics Florida for several reasons. Among them:

  • To mark its 50th anniversary, the organization will commission a one-of-a-kind art project honoring the founder of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The piece will embody the principles of inclusion, acceptance, and dignity for all. Special Olympics Florida seeks artists and input from its athletes and their supporters. More details about the project are available on Special Olympics Florida’s 50th Anniversary website (specialolympicsflorida50.org). 
  • From June 5 through June 12, Special Olympics Florida will host the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando. Team Florida, consisting of approximately 600 athletes, will go for the gold against Special Olympics athletes from across the U.S. and the Caribbean. The weeklong competition will be the largest humanitarian event in Florida’s history.
  • On October 1, the organization will host a spectacular 50th Anniversary Gala at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. “Celebrating Our Champions” will be a tribute to our wonderful athletes and to everyone who has been part of the Special Olympics Florida movement.   

Special Olympics Florida will also host its Summer Games in May and is planning an all-new, All-Star Weekend celebration for the late summer. The organization’s second annual Race for Inclusion will feature a series of fundraising events and races that kick off in the spring and run through the fall.

“We want everyone to be included in our celebration,” said Wheelock. “We have a very full year in front of us.”

Special Olympics Florida was founded in February 1972 by a group of volunteers and activists committed to helping people with intellectual disabilities lead happier, more satisfying lives. By 1980, it was serving 10,000 athletes statewide and, a year after that, one of the first athletes in the country was chosen to be a Special Olympics Global Messenger.

By the late 1990s, Special Olympics was serving more than 17,000 athletes, and its competitions were becoming more extensive and more spectacular. In the mid-2000s, the organization began holding its Fall Classic and State Summer Games at the Walt Disney World ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Though best known for its sports programs, Special Olympics Florida also provides its athletes with leadership training and crucial health screenings and services. To promote its message of inclusion, it offers Unified Sports and the Unified Champion Schools programs, which bring together people with and without intellectual disabilities.

Central to the Special Olympics mission is the fact that people with intellectual disabilities will accomplish amazing things if they are just given a chance. Special Olympics Florida athletes have set records, won ESPY awards, written books, and, most importantly, show the world that what unites us is much greater than what divides us.

To learn more about Special Olympics Florida’s 50th anniversary and discover ways to support and get involved, please visit www.specialolympicsflorida50.orgTo donate, volunteer, or see a complete list of Special Olympics Florida’s upcoming events, please visit www.specialolympicsflorida.org.

About Special Olympics Florida

For 50 years, Special Olympics Florida had provided year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities who wish to participate, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.

Media Contact
Uproar for Special Olympics Florida
April Evans