Special Olympics Arizona Summer Games 2015

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On May 7-9th Special Olympics Arizona held its summer games, one of our major State competitions. At this year’s games, we had over 1,300 athletes take part in events ranging from track and field to volleyball and power lifting. 1150 volunteers came to help with competition, events, Healthy Athletes, and Olympic Village. Thank you volunteers, you are the backbone of our organization who allow events like this to thrive every year!

The event kicked off at Gila River Arena with the much anticipated opening ceremonies. The final leg of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run concluded the ceremony, lighting the cauldron with the “Flame of Hope”, signifying the opening of the State Summer Games. Thank you to all our sponsors and donors who help provide opportunities like these to our athletes! We would also like to recognize the City of Glendale and Gila River Arena for the use of their wonderful facilities.

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Raymond S. Kellis High School, our host for this year’s State Summer Games, is truly one of the pioneers within Project UNIFY. Project UNIFY is a partnership between Special Olympics and the US Department of Education, with a goal to empower and activate youth  to develop school communities where all young people are agents of change—fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.  For Project UNIFY to be truly transformative, it needs to reach most, if not all students in the school and involve those students in meaningful ways which promote positive attitudes.  Project UNIFY gives students the opportunity to lead the next generation of the Special Olympics movement. Raymond S. Kellis High School has created a campus of inclusion where all students are treated as equals.

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In addition to all of the summer games hype, the May issue of the Phoenix New Times released an article on Unified Sports authored by Amy Silverman. The article talks about Amy’s daughter Sophie and the experiences she’s had with Special Olympics Arizona within her Unify program. In the article entitled “Game Changer”, Ms. Silverman writes about the great things Raymond S. Kellis High School is doing on its campus. Silverman notes that “Unified Sports has a spot on the varsity photo wall” and that “Unified Athletes routinely speak at Graduation”.

Summer Games 2015

The competitions were not the only remarkable piece of the Special Olympics Arizona Summer Games.  Healthy Athletes provides health screenings at several Special Olympics events year round. During Summer Games, over 1600 medical screenings were provided in 6 different disciplines, ranging from podiatry to optometry, throughout the fun fill weekend. With Health and Fitness as a strategic goal, we want to ensure all Special Olympics Arizona athletes are in good health to not only compete at the top of their game on the field, but also have the best quality of life off the field.

Congratulations to all the athletes that competed in the 2015 Summer Games.

As the great Herb Brooks said “You were born to be a player, you were meant to be here, this moment is yours.”

2014 Special Olympics USA Games – A Success for all involved!

On June 21st, 22 athletes, 15 unified partners, 5 coaches and 2 assistant coaches made the long journey across the country to New Jersey to compete in 5 different sports competitions for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games. After a week of rigorous competition, we are happy to report that Team Arizona brought home 7 gold medals in addition to a multitude of accomplishments from all of our athletes and unified partners. Congratulations to all, for their hard work, and Bravery!

2014 USA Medal Count 2

It is clear that we all enjoyed our time in New Jersey, meeting hundreds of other inspirational athletes from around the country and hearing all of their unique stories. In fact, these encounters inspired one of our own USA Games Athletes, Ronny Jones, to document his story. Here is Ronny’s Experience, as told by himself:

“I had a great time in New Jersey, attending my first ever USA Games, representing Special Olympics Arizona.  The trip started off with a royal treat.  We were enthusiastically greeted and escorted by Arizona Cardinal Cheerleaders to the Cardinals’ private plane. Then we boarded the Cessna where they said, “Make it your home.”  I did a short interview about the events I was going to compete in and got a chance to thank the Cardinals’ reps for sharing their awesome ride!


Landing safely in New Jersey, the royal treatment continued.  There was a lot of people greeting and meeting us. There was a reception line that we got a chance to walk or run through.  All of us were in shock that a lot of fans were there for us!  We felt like celebrities and were treated awesome! My mom, Granny, and Aunt were able to come and cheer on my team and me that made it extra special!

When we weren’t busy competing during the day, we had a chance to go to some night activities like the dinner cruise, baseball game, Olympic town, Olympic village, sport showcase and Healthy Athletes.

I left the 2014 USA Games with a Gold medal for the 50 Breaststroke and a Silver medal for (my favorite event) the 25 Butterfly.  I also got a participation medal for the 25 Breaststroke.


When we got to the airport for departing, guess what?  We saw a WWE Superstar: Mark Henry!  He is really nice and friendly. EVERYONE made this trip a dream come true!  I could get use to going to more Big Special Olympic Events!”

In addition to Ronny’s story, I also had the pleasure to learn about another great experience from a Mother of one of our athletes that attended the USA Games. Her encounter involves our recent “Everybody Wins” Partnership with Parker & Sons and the “Top it off Special” running through the next year to benefit Special Olympics Arizona. After noticing an A/C problem in her sons apartment on Friday, she decided to give Parker & Sons a call.

“Troy (Parker & Sons Service Tech) was polite, professional and courteous.  He took his time to diagnose and correct the problem…The invoice total came to about $250 – but thanks to this special, they didn’t charge me a dime!  Troy even took time at the end of the service call to listen to Braden’s stories about his recent experience at the National Games in New Jersey, even though he had been there for nearly three hours and likely had more calls to make that afternoon.”

“I was thrilled with the service provided by Parker and Sons, and I definitely plan to use them again – for Braden’s condo, my home, and my office building.  This truly is an “Everybody Wins” campaign – Braden got his A/C fixed at no cost, Special Olympics received another donation, and Parker and Sons earned a loyal customer.  I’ll definitely be spreading the word!”

We are excited to report that with the help of Parker & Sons, and the Arizona Diamondbacks “Everybody Wins” Campaign, over $70,000.00 has been raised for Special Olympics Arizona!  If you would like to take advantage of the Parker & Sons “Top it Off Special” or learn more about the “Everybody Wins” partnership, take a look at our Website HERE.





How Healthy Communities Improved My Health and Nutrition Habits

Today, I would like to share a guest blog post that was authored by Special Olympics Arizona Athlete, Carla Simon. Through her words, Carla is able to shed light on how the programs at Special Olympics can impact the lives of our athletes everywhere. I was excited to find out that this blog post was originally published on The World of Special Olympics Blog, and it is my pleasure to have the opportunity to share it with the Special Olympics Arizona community as well.

Carla is currently in New Jersey competing with Team Arizona in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games. With two Silver medals and one Gold received so far, her accomplishments truly speak to what dedication and hard-work can achieve.

Make sure you check back in a few weeks for a full re-cap on the accomplishments of Team Arizona in the 2014 USA Games!

The World of Special Olympics

Carla SimonEditor’s Note: The following is a guest blog post by Carla Simon who has competed in Special Olympics for six years. She is also on the Special Olympics Arizona Athlete Input Council.

Hi, my name is Carla Simon, and I am competing at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey in less than a month. Throughout the year, I compete in Special Olympics in 11 different sports. About a year and a half ago I started getting more involved with Healthy Communities through Special Olympics Arizona and learned some good nutrition tips from my coaches and the volunteers and how to stay healthy as I began my training for USA Games.

My coach said in order for us to do our best, we should try to eat healthy and maintain a good weight. This is what got me inspired. Now I am down to 150 pounds from 192…

View original post 332 more words

A Look Back at the 2014 Summer State Games

After spending an entire weekend at the Special Olympics Arizona 2014 Summer State Games, it becomes easy to remember the amazing potential our athletes possess as they demonstrate their courage, strength, and perseverance throughout this event. In sports ranging from track and field to tennis, it was a wonderful experience to be able to watch the 1,051 athletes compete in their respective athletic areas. Because there was so much going on and tons of fun being had, here is our list of the top 10 things we saw at this year’s Summer Games.


1. The Final Leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run & the Lighting of the Torch at the Opening Ceremonies

From Tucson to Lake Havasu, the “Flame of Hope” traveled to different parts of the state to convene for the final leg of the run from Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza to Grand Canyon University. The support from the 3,898 participants and 106 law enforcement agencies that helped to raise money and awareness for our organization during this week-long event was inspirational for all to see.

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When the 100 runners, carrying the torch, entered the track at GCU, the crowd went wild! Everyone was overjoyed as Tuscan officer, Joe Curran, and Daniel Arch, a Special Olympics Arizona athlete, lit the torch to kick off the 2014 Arizona Summer State Games. We could not have asked for a better way to start off the weekend!


2. A New Location

The grounds at Grand Canyon University are beautiful, not to mention a perfect place to host our Summer State Competition! With plenty of indoor and outdoor space and state-of-the-art athletic facilities, we are so grateful to GCU for hosting our group this past weekend!

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3. The Most Inspirational Athlete

The 2014 Most Inspirational Athlete award was presented to an individual who never ceased to show his positive spirit and leadership skills during all competitions. After eighteen years of being a role model for his team and other Special Olympic athletes, we were happy to award Ryan Stamper with this prestigious award! His inspirational speech filled the field with enthusiasm, including his friends and family who were there to support his accomplishment.

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4. The Always-Amazing Volunteers

Needless to say, our volunteers are one of the most important factors in how we are able to do what we do, and this year we were fortunate to have 1,150 helping hands at our state competition. Our volunteers contributed countless hours assisting our athletes during all stages of this event, and we are thankful to all who came out to support our athletes! Visit http://www.specialolympicsarizona.org/get-involved to find our more information on how to become a Special Olympics Arizona Volunteer.

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5. The Healthy Athletes Area

We are happy to announce that throughout the weekend our Healthy Athletes program was able to provide 1,200 health screenings with the help of our sponsors Mercy Care Plan, Aetna, PetSmart, and Phoenix Children’s Hospital to name a few! These screenings provided Special Olympics athletes with opportunities to receive new athletic shoes, learn more about pet therapy programs, physical therapy programs, and participate in hearing, vision, and dentistry consultations.

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6. The Support from our Local Military

A welcomed addition to our hard-working volunteer groups was military unit 6253, from the U.S. Army Hospital. The group eagerly joined the Special Olympics volunteer ranks to hand out high-fives and hugs at the Opening Ceremonies as well as escort athletes to and from the different screening areas at the Healthy Athletes location. Their enthusiasm and warm demeanor are qualities that make up a perfect Special Olympics Volunteer!


7. The Competitions

The amazing athletic achievements that were occurring throughout the competition were wonderful to witness. Some highlights included our power-lifting competition in which Special Olympic athletes were bench pressing up to 220 lbs. and dead-lifting up to 370 lbs. Meanwhile, at the track and field competition athletes were running 1500 meters, encouraging and cheering for each other the entire time. We are so proud of our athletes!


8. The Victory Dance and Dinner

It is a tradition to end each State competition weekend with a victory dinner and dance. At this celebratory event, dinner is offered to all athletes, which was graciously provided by Panda Express this year. Following dinner, the athletes anxiously preceded to the Recreation Center on campus to dance the night away!


9.The Western Refining Olympic Village Tent

A big thank you goes out to Western Refining for their continued sponsorship of Olympic Village. The creative minds in charge of this area did a great job coming up with games and activities for our athletes to participate in between their scheduled competitions. Arts and crafts, a photo booth, and snow cones were a few of the offerings provided in the village.


10. All of the Awards and Medals!

The feelings of joy could be felt a mile away from the awards tent! Athletes were welcomed with cheers and high-fives as they proceed to the steps to receive their medals or ribbons from the Thunderbirds. Everyone should be so proud of their accomplishments this past weekend!


These were only a few of the memorable moments from an overall fantastic weekend. Thanks goes out to all involved in the preparation and execution. These important people included sponsors such as Swift Transportation, Parker& Sons, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Frys, Destination Phoenix, Republic Services, Arizona Diamondbacks, Scottsdale Physicians Group, Coca-Cola, American Express, Merrill Lynch, and Bank of America; the hard-working Special Olympics Arizona staff, the 355 coaches and chaperons, and of course the athletes! Even though we were sad to see the weekend end, the good news is that the next State Competition is right around the corner, this fall. Hopefully we will see you there!

Arizona Soldiers are Special Heroes

There is no denying that the United States Army is made up of heroes – brave and dedicated individuals who risk their lives daily in order to protect our freedom. Each one of these individuals is extremely important to the fabric of our society as we know it. It should then come as no surprise that these well-known heroes willingly gave a weekend of their time to support a less likely group of heroes.

On March 26th and 27th, a group of soldiers from the 6253rd USAH in Mesa, Arizona volunteered at the Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) State Games competition held at Mesa Community College. Dressed in full uniform with temperatures reaching up into the high 90’s, the soldiers cheerfully escorted athletes through SOAZ’s Healthy Athletes screenings. In these screenings, the athletes are examined by volunteer medical professionals in the disciplines of podiatry, physical therapy, better health and well-being, audiology, vision, and dentistry. If any potential health issues are discovered, the athlete is then flagged for a referral and is assisted in receiving follow-up care. In addition to helping out with Healthy Athletes, the soldiers also provided the athletes with water, high fives, cheers, and smiles.

Many of the SOAZ athletes, all of which have intellectual disabilities, have had to overcome obstacles and difficulties in life that are unimaginable for most. Chances for these athletes to shine and feel appreciated are few and far between. The Summer Games are one of these treasured opportunities, and the presence of U.S. Army soldiers made the whole experience that much sweeter for the athletes.

Jesse Thompson, Healthy Athletes Coordinator for SOAZ, was moved by the athletes’ reactions to the soldiers. “Every time a soldier was matched up to escort athletes through the health screenings, they would immediately get a huge smile on their face,” said Thompson. “The soldiers are all-stars to our athletes.”

“They really enjoyed us being there,” said Captain Dwayne Gbelia, a member of the 6253rd USAH. “If we weren’t wanted, it wouldn’t have been as much fun.”

As much as the athletes loved interacting with the soldiers, the soldiers were able to take away just as much, if not more, from the experience. “Although our presence there seems to boost the spirits of the athletes and the other volunteers, I feel it does a lot more for me,” said Sergeant Tevenal, another volunteer from the 6253rd USAH. “It’s gratifying to serve the athletes and to help them to fulfill their dreams. We all want to do it again.”

For some of the soldier volunteers, this was their second experience with SOAZ after volunteering at the Fall Games in 2012 where they provided first aid services for the athletes. Captain Gbelia is hoping to continue to grow the 6253rd USAH’s involvement with SOAZ in the future. “We want to do more,” he said. “We have professional doctors and many other resources that could be utilized to benefit Special Olympics.”

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AZ Soldiers

7th Annual Breakfast With Champions

Once more, Special Olympics Arizona’s (SOAZ) Breakfast with Champions event is right around the corner! The 7th Annual Breakfast will be taking place on Friday, September 13, 2013 at the Arizona Biltmore. This signature fundraising event brings together over 1,000 community leaders, law enforcement personnel, political figures, coaches, families, and athletes for a motivational morning of speakers and testimonials sharing the positive impact SOAZ has on the lives of everyone involved.

Those attending this year’s Breakfast are in for an extra special treat as Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics International, will be in attendance as the event’s key-note speaker. As the son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Creator and Founder of Special Olympics, Tim has been closely involved with the organization throughout his entire life. He has established several successful initiatives in athlete leadership, cross-cultural research, health, education, and family support. Two major programs being celebrated at this year’s Breakfast are Special Olympics Advocacy Resources (SOAR) and Athlete Leadership Programs (ALPs). SOAR is dedicated to partnering a Special Olympics Arizona athlete with a liaison who functions in a representative capacity/mentorship role to facilitate services in the realm of legal, advocacy, life and job skills. ALPs provides Special Olympics athletes with the opportunity to shape the future of the Special Olympics movement while ensuring that people with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to become leaders within the organization as well as in the community.

Special Olympics Arizona is more than just sports; it is an opportunity for those with intellectual disabilities to be productive, valued, and appreciated members of society.Image

Special Olympics in Times Square

Special Olympics athletes Andy Miyares and Michel Kazororis will be featured as part of Bank of America’s “Better When Connected” campaign this weekend on a jumbo screen in Times Square in New York City!

This high-visibility opportunity will feature a select group of charitable partners and their impact on the community, on the Marriott Marquis Hotel billboard in Times Square. The billboard is expected to generate 1.4 million impressions, daily, based on tourist and commuter foot traffic and social media. The billboard will encourage viewers to connect with Special Olympics via Twitter and other social media channels.

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Building Confidence and Skills through Sports

Special Olympics Arizona impacts the lives of more than 13,000 children and adults each year.  We work so that we may realize founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision:  to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities everywhere, and, in turn, transform the lives of everyone they touch – building a better, more accepting world for all of us.   The athletes tell us that our programs and events have improved their self-esteem, helped them make new friends, increased their sports skills and made them feel a part of their communities.

In his own words, Special Olympics athlete, Ronny Jones, tells why he loves Special Olympics and basketball:  I have liked basketball since I was little when I was shooting around with my Grandma and it was hard to shoot for a while.  Then I made my first shot and I told my Grandma that I wanted to play basketball.  I felt shy about playing when I was little but now I am more comfortable since I grew up. It helps me to stay in shape and lets me eat more pizza.  I play all the positions.  I love to shoot the basketball in the hoop a lot so I can make some good points and to pass and rebounding and defense.  Sometimes it’s hard to help my teammates get the ball. I play with some players that have a little bit of a hard time with pressure and I work hard to help them stay involved in the game.  We call it “Sharing the Love”.

 Special Olympics has built up my confidence. It has given me the opportunity to speak publicly and sing the National Anthem for SOAZ in front of thousands of people at our local arena football league game and at the Biltmore Resort for a Breakfast with Champions.  I have made many new friends both with and without disabilities by participating in Unified Sports and on the SOAZ Youth Activation Committee.  I’ve also met NBA players. My favorites are Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and LeBron James.   I wish I could be playing basketball with my favorite NBA players. I wish I could play basketball until I’m 62 years old.

photoRonny Jones and teammateRonny Jones passes during a game

Be a Fan!

On December 1, 2012 Special Olympics Arizona 2nd annual Be a Fan Gala will be held at the MonteLucia Resort in Paradise Valley,  Arizona.  This elegant fundraiser will bring together Special Olympic Athletes, Professional Athletes, Local Celebrities  Community Leaders and Socially Minded Individuals in support of inclusion for all people.  We would love for you to come and support the athletes of Special Olympics Arizona and get the opportunity to mingle with pro athletes such as the event Honorary Chair, Luis Gonzales and many more.

Mountain Area Fundraising

Congratulations the  Special Olympics Arizona Mountain Area for the successful fundraising for Special Olympics Athletes   The 8th Annual Bare Aspen Wine Tasting raised over $34,000.00 in donations and in kind services.  On behalf of the athletes we would like to thank Kathy Harper, Carol Sharp, all the volunteers and vendors that supported this event.