Meet the Determined: Special Olympics World Games Inspires Empowerment & Inclusion

By Stacey Hengsterman, President and CEO of Special Olympics New York

Today, more than 300 athletes and coaches from throughout the country arrived in Abu Dhabi for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games. They join 7,500 competitors from 192 countries for the world’s largest humanitarian sporting event of the year. 192 countries!

I had the honor of spending the day with Team USA as they received a first class send-off complete with all of the pomp and circumstance they deserve. After a morning of activities designed to prepare them for the long trip and weeks of competition ahead, they were honored by Special Olympics officials and supporters as well as celebrity guests. Athletes, coaches and staff were cheered on by attendees in a grand farewell and then received a police escort to the airport, where they were again greeted with fanfare before boarding a plane to Abu Dhabi. Team USA took up all but 40 seats on the plane.

If you know just one of the people on that plane, you know how hard they’ve worked to reach this point. You know they’ve trained, tirelessly, to be at their best. You know the obstacles they’ve overcome along the way. And, like me and the rest of their fans across the country, you know their achievements – win or lose – will inspire the world.

Among Team USA are six Special Olympics New York athletes: Angel Athenas (powerlifting), Alyse Mackey (high jump), Cassie Taber (track & field), Jared Lamb (track & field), Kinsey Henry (track & field), and Trent Hampton (triathlon: swimming, cycling, running), who took home Team USA’s first medal today, earning the bronze in the triathlon.

Special Olympics New York is also represented in the Team USA delegation by two coaches, Sue Handerhan (Tennis) and Christine Johnson (Golf), three participants in the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), Trooper Mike O’Bryan and Board Members June Worden and Athlete Paul Asaro, and volunteer photographer Ken Smith.

We could not be more proud.

World Games begins March 14. You can follow along beginning at 11 a.m. on ESPNEWS with a live three-hour special capturing the inspiration, pageantry, performances and special guests of the Opening Ceremony. We’ll also cover as much as we can on our Special Olympics NY social media feeds.

And if you are as inspired as I think you will be, there’s something else you can do to support our athletes and share the Special Olympics message of inclusion and empowerment in your own community.

World Games coincides with the annual Special Olympics Spread the Word to Inclusion campaign held throughout the month of March. Across New York in more than 50 schools, students, sports teams, coaches, and staff are organizing activities such as pledge-signing events, PA announcements, awareness videos, and more in support of the campaign. You can join us by taking the Spread the Word pledge online and following up with acts of inclusion in your community.

To support Special Olympics New York athletes by making a monetary donation or contributing your time as a volunteer, visit www.SpecialOlympicsNY.org.