Special Olympics Celebrates Its Annual Champions Gala

On Oct.1, Special Olympics Florida will host its 50th Anniversary Champions Gala to celebrate all its Champions. Taking place at the Omni ChampionsGate, the evening will feature a flowing reception, fine wines and drinks, food, entertainment and a silent/live auction.

The highlight of the evening is an inspiring awards ceremony celebrating 50 years of athletes across the state of Florida, their coaches, volunteers, and supporters of the organization’s mission.

The mission of Special Olympics Florida is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities. Athletes are provided the opportunity to develop and demonstrate their skills and talents through sports training and competition, ultimately increasing the public’s awareness of their capabilities and needs.

“We can see the value of these programs and the positive impact it has so immediately my goal was how many more people can we reach. So, when I started in 2012, we had around 20,000 athletes competing and now we’re nearly at 60,000 athletes across the state,” says CEO Sherry Wheelock.

Notable Accomplishments Include:

  • Providing more than $2 million in free medical screenings for thousands of Floridians with intellectual disabilities through its health programs.
  • Hosting the 2022 USA Games this past June in Central Florida with a turnout north of 120,000 fans.
  • Introducing Unified Champion Schools to promote social inclusion by bringing together young people with and without intellectual disabilities on sports teams.

According to Wheelock, the Unified Champion Schools program is the future of Special Olympics Florida. “Through that program we’ve also created partnerships with the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), so now our athletes compete in the same FHSAA competitions in a unified division within their schools.” “Those are some of the real wins around inclusion,” she says.

The gala presents yet another opportunity for the community to learn more about Special Olympics Florida and all it has to offer.

“At every table at the gala, we have an athlete and a mentor, so it could be a coach, their parent, or a teacher, and I think the beauty of that is the athletes enjoy the event and we’re also able to intimately engage the community,” Wheelock says. “It’s a great way for new people to see what’s happening with Special Olympics.”

Presented by Publix since 1972, the premiere event benefits Special Olympics Florida as individual ticket purchases will sponsor one athlete for an entire year of sports training, competition, health services, and leadership opportunities.

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Written by Alexis George

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