Special Olympics 2023 World Games Spotlight: Sean O’Rourke

With just a mile left in his cycling race, Sean O’Rourke could taste the gold medal. Yet when his bike began to wobble, he knew something was wrong. His tire had gone flat.

It was a tough break for someone competing in their first State Games. Sean had trained so hard, building his endurance with marathons, iron mans, and Special Olympics trainings. Yet due to circumstances beyond his control, he was going to fall short of victory.

“But when you train all year and then drive seven hours to go to State Games, you don’t quit,” he told us. “You do whatever it takes to finish.”

Sean didn’t medal, but he did finish that race. He completed the final mile on foot, carrying his bike on his back.

That’s the kind of grit he’s shown his entire athletic career. Hailing from Northport, NY and competing primarily in our Long Island Region, Sean has been with us since age 13. Now, at 45, he’s headed to Berlin for Special Olympics World Games 2023.

Sean put in an immense amount of training to get there. With Special Olympics, he competed in the half marathon at the 2003 World Games, the triathlon at the 2014 USA Games, and track & field at the 2022 USA Games. Outside Special Olympics, he’s completed numerous prestigious races, including the Philadelphia, Boston, and NYC Marathons, as well as the Lake Placid Iron Man.

“That iron man was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Sean added. “I trained with a group out in Oregon just to prepare for the event.”

If there’s one thing that defines Sean’s athletic career thus far, it’s preparation—both for himself and others, since he always takes time to mentor his peers. In cycling, for example, he stresses the importance of drafting to his teammates, a technique that builds speed with less effort. It’s an effective strategy, but only when cyclists are working together.

“You have to trust the riders in front of and behind you,” he explained.

Sports have changed Sean’s personal life as well. In 2009, while training for the Boston Marathon, Sean met his wife, Pavla. They’ve been married for 16 years, and they’ve been parents for seven. Their son, Sean, is a multi-sport athlete, just like his mom and dad.

With a lifetime of athletic accomplishment under his belt, we’re certain Sean will find success when he competes in cycling at World Games. But no matter what happens, we know he’ll show the same bravery from his first State Games. Nothing could represent his country better than that.

If you’d like to support Sean on his journey to Berlin, please make a donation at this link.