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  • 1000 x 579 Brightfield

    International Global Messengers, 2015-2019

    Our Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers are chosen from among top athlete leaders around the world. They're athletes, and they're spokespeople for our movement.


    Brightfield Shadi, Special Olympics Botswana

Athlete Leaders from Around the World

Through sports training and competitions, Special Olympics helps people with intellectual disabilities find joy, acceptance and success. As their lives open up, athletes gain the confidence that comes with achievement. They feel empowered. 

They are ready to take on new leadership challenges to make use of their new abilities. They can become mentors for other athletes. They can train to become coaches and officials. They can also move toward a more public role as a speaker or spokesperson. They can speak to audiences and journalists about the positive changes that Special Olympics helped bring about in their lives. At Special Olympics, our athletes are empowered to share their many gifts and talents with society.

Yet, it's more than that. Our athletes also become empowered to be leaders in society -- and teach us all about acceptance and understanding.

Our athlete leaders are powerful and insightful speakers. To learn how to invite a Special Olympics leader to speak, please visit our speakers bureau page.


Brightfield Shadi, Special Olympics Botswana

Brightfield is from Botswana, where a diagnosis of intellectual disability can mean lifelong isolation and stigma. He also has visual impairments which led to mockery and bullying in school and elsewhere. He says his only encouragement came from his mother, but she died many years ago. His aunt raised him and helped him through school and then, in 2008, they found a Special Olympics program which, he says, changed his life. Brightfield adds, "It gave me the chance to be with other people of my same ability and see my strengths and overcome my weaknesses. This has also helped me know what to do with people who are teasing you. You realize we all have our different weaknesses-but also have strengths."

Through Special Olympics sports, Brightfield - also known as Brisha - now has many friends. "My athlete friends support me, my coach friends encourage me. It's wonderful." At age 18, he began in athletics - the 100-meter and 200-meter - and won silver at the 2011 World Summer Games in Athens. Then it was on to football (soccer) and volleyball. He is now coaching a unified volleyball team that is training for 2015 World Summer Games in Los Angeles. Brightfield loves being a coach because he can bring the power of Special Olympics sports to more people with intellectual disabilities: "I want to help them build up confidence and accept who they are-just like I did." He adds, "It's changed my life to be a soccer coach who can encourage others - and show them ways to improve and be healthy."

He also says volleyball is an important sport for teaching people with intellectual disabilities discipline and teamwork - more even than football. "With volleyball, you have to know how others work and understand each other. In football, you can do anything - just run, kick and score." He says Special Olympics sports teach athletes so many skills that are important in life.

Currently, he coaches athletes in football at two primary schools. He is also a volleyball coach in his home village of Serowe. He has also gone through athlete leadership training and enjoys public speaking. When he is not involved in sports or working with the athlete leadership council, Brightfield was accepted to the National Service Program where he is employed full time as an assistant teacher at a primary school. He also has a certificate in carpentry and screen prints T-shirts to sell in his community.

As for sports, his goal is to earn more medals - and also for his Unified Volleyball team to win at World Games.  He adds, "Special Olympics has opened so many gates for me. I look forward to my team competing in Los Angeles. They will do their best."

Brightfield says he's a different person that he was before getting involved in Special Olympics. "Now, I am a person who believes in myself and also that everything happens for a reason. Because of Special Olympics, I now believe that my disability is an ability - and an opportunity."

Chanchai “Oom” Kemkaew , Special Olympics Thailand

Born with both physical and intellectual disabilities, Chanchai was 8 years old when his father passed away. His mother was left raising two young boys on a modest income working at the local farm. Although his family struggled financially, his mother wanted Chanchai to have opportunities to meet friends and build his overall self-confidence.

He lacked self-confidence because he was always falling and had a hard time learning how to walk. One of Chanchai's greatest achievements was being able to walk without falling. "People often teased me when I continued to fall. I didn't want to be teased anymore so I worked hard to learn how to walk, and I thought, I might not be good at a lot of things, but maybe I'm good at sports." Chanchai says 'sports changed his life.'

Chanchai found out about Special Olympics at his school and joined when he was just 13 years old. The rest is history. "Playing sports has allowed me to be stronger." He began not only practicing sport through his physical therapy, but also playing football (soccer) on a Special Olympics team. Playing football also gave Chanchai a confidence boost to seek out leadership opportunities within Special Olympics Thailand. He had always been afraid to speak in front of large crowds and was nervous and self-conscious. He has participated as a member of the National and Regional Games Organizing Committees, as a regional sub-committee member and Board Member for Special Olympics Thailand. He has been trained in speech and governance, volunteer training, as an Assistant Coach for Special Olympics Young Athletes, serves as a member of the Asia Pacific athlete input council and has given numerous speeches at a variety of events.

He says the hardest part about playing football is the practice and finding the time to stay fit and being able to run the long distances required in his position as a forward on his Special Olympics team. Chanchai has earned 9 medals in football - 3 gold medals, 2 silver medals and 4 bronze medals.

In addition to playing football whenever he has the chance, Chanchai works full time at UNIQLO, Seacon Square Branch, Bangkok. "I want to tell all special needs children or adults to not look down on themselves. In the world today, there is opportunity for everyone."

David Egan, Special Olympics Virginia, USA

David is from Vienna, Virginia and he first got involved in Special Olympics at a very young age with strong encouragement and support from his family. As an athlete, he competes in swimming, soccer, softball and tennis. David enjoys playing Unified Soccer and Unified Softball on a team that is coached by his brother. In middle school, David became increasingly interested in public speaking. He credits Special Olympics for “giving him a voice” and he has been actively using his voice to change perceptions, promote respect, inclusion and dignity for people with Intellectual Disabilities. In addition to his public speaking engagements, David is an eager advocate for people with ID at the local, national and international level focusing and imagining the possibilities. Over the years, David has volunteered at two World Games in North Carolina and in Greece and participated in two Athlete Congresses. He serves on several boards to promote abilities and collaborate with other advocacy groups. He cares about building coalitions to make our world a better place for all. Recently, he was accepted as a Joseph P. Kennedy Fellow by the Foundation Trustees and is serving this year on Capitol Hill at the Ways and Means Committee with the hope to influence policy, install vision and change in the way individuals and organizations view people with disabilities.

David works at Booz-Allen Hamilton in the distribution center and he is a trailblazer in the competitive employment of people with intellectual disabilities and has earned numerous awards. During his free time, David enjoys family and friends. He is a Star Trek Fan and loves all kinds of sports. With his vivid imagination and passion for the civil rights movement he loves to engage in thoughtful conversations about a variety of subjects.

Jason Gieschen, Special Olympics Nebraska , USA

Jason is from Ogallala, Nebraska and he first participated in Special Olympics at the age of fourteen after being encouraged by his High School principal to attend a local bowling practice. From that time on, Jason has been actively engaged in 11 sports total!

He attributes his ability to perform better in these sports to the fact that he has lost 92lbs and has made significant strides to eat healthier and exercise daily. Jason’s self confidence has increased tremendously and he is able to make friends everywhere he goes. Special Olympics has helped him overcome his biggest challenge of being told that he can not do anything and that he can not be independent. His personal best in sports is achieving 280 lbs on the dead lift and 130 lbs on the bench press. Jason has many memorable moments competing in sports, but his most vivid one is the experience he shared with his brother-in-law as they competed in a Unified Golf tournament and won gold. On a weekly basis, Jason travels 120 miles from his small hometown in Ogallala to meet his team in Scottsbluff. Being part of the team and sharing the team spirit makes the drive worthwhile.

Jason leads a very active life outside of sports. He works full time at an Educational Service Unit as a Documentation coordinator and is an active public speaker when he is not at work. He is also a talented photographer with a keen eye for taking capturing landscape pictures. Jason also enjoys singing the National Anthem at Special Olympics statewide events.

“You can achieve anything you set your mind to. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it!” says Jason.
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Johanna Pramstaller, Special Olympics Austria

Johanna is from Vandans, Bludenz, Austria. As an International Global Messenger, she seeks to take the ideas and wishes of her fellow athletes and turn them into reality.

Johanna hails from a family of nine, which includes three other siblings with intellectual disabilities. Johanna credits Special Olympics with changing her life by helping her be more independent, developing friendships, and learning to trust more.

Johanna is very competitive and likes to make goals for herself in the myriad of sports in which she competes (alpine skiing, swimming, floorball, athletics, golf, fitness). She is a four-time World Games athlete, including the 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 events, who shares that she always has fun competing. She also plays Unified Sports and won gold with her partner Josef at Austria’s National Games in her first time competing Unified. Johanna won silver in Unified golf at the 2011 World Games with her partner Edwine.

An athlete who focuses on training year-round, Johanna shares that her favorite athletes are Michael Phelps, Anna Fenninger (an alpine skier in Austria) and Tiger Woods. Her favorite celebrities include Lenny Kravitz, Jon Bon Jovi and Linkin Park. In addition to her involvement with Special Olympics, Johanna works in a nursing home Monday through Friday, enjoys meeting friends, spending holidays in Italy and making looming bands (bracelets).

Lize Weerdenburg, Special Olympics Netherlands

Lize is from Utrecht, The Netherlands and currently competes in speed skating but also has history of training and competing in Athletics both with Special Olympics and before her participation in Special Olympics at a sports club in her hometown which offered sports for people with disabilities. She started with Special Olympics when she was 17 after hearing about it through her sports club. She chose Speed Skating because she likes to go fast and when skating, she is able to focus on the sport and forget about other troubles and worries. Special Olympics has done many things for her including teaching her self-worth. Previously, she struggled with low self-esteem, but Special Olympics has taught her that she can accomplish great things and can belong and find her place in society. She also credits Special Olympics with making her family closer, giving her greater self confidence, and allowing her to conquer her fears and anxiety. Her personal best in sport was finishing the 100 meters in 20 seconds, and her biggest sports achievement was winning 2 golds and a Bronze in short track during the 2009 World Winter Games in Idaho. Following these Games, Lize was selected to serve as the National Ambassador of Special Olympics Netherlands to the 2013 World Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

Lize has a very active life outside of sports. She works at a restaurant/cafeteria at the university in her hometown where she cooks, preps food, and is a cashier. She also acts, having been featured in two television series that aired in The Netherlands. She has even been recognized in public, thanks to her television work! She also enjoys drawing, music, dancing, cooking, and computer work. She also maintains her physical activity when not competing by going to a local gym twice a week. She has lost weight in this way and feels healthier.

Nitzeida Galvez, Special Olympics Panama

Nitzeida was 11 when her mother died and her grandmother took her in, even as some of her siblings were living in the streets of Panama City. These were rough times, but one day Nitzeida saw something that gave her hope. On TV, she saw a brief story about Special Olympics athletes. “They were running and jumping and I knew I wanted to be there with them.” Her grandmother told her there was no money for such things, but young Nitzeida made her way to where the athletes were training – without telling her grandmother -- and found out Special Olympics was free! She’s been with Special Olympics ever since, starting out in athletics (shot put, track), later moving on to tennis and bowling.

She says Special Olympics “totally” changed her life – showing her a path to success and even gave her grandmother a support network while learning to raise a child with special needs. Nitzeida says her life became full – with many friends, both athletes and coaches. “They are like another family,” she says.

Her grandmother died a year ago, and now Nitzeida is living with her sister. She continues along her path to independence, which started with cooking school a few years ago. This led to a fantastic job: Nitzeida is on the cooking staff for Panama’s president. “I try to make his favorites, like sushi and fish and vegetables.” She says it’s hard work “because there are so many people around, watching what you are doing. So you have to be really careful.” But she loves it.

She says the hardest part about sports is training and running. Lately, she’s been working on improving in bowling. Her best score is 120—but she’s working on beating that. Her biggest challenge has been learning to speak to large groups. Then again, she says it’s easy to talk about Special Olympics.

One of her goals is to tell more people about Special Olympics health programming – because she thinks people don’t know enough about it. It was a Healthy Athletes screening that helped get her own eye-problem diagnosed. For years, Nitzeida lived with an untreated eye condition stemming from a childhood fall. But a Healthy Athletes exam put her on the path to treatment.

“I make great friends and love the opportunities. Also, in my country, it’s one of the only ways some athletes can get a health exam.” She adds, “Special Olympics gives you a chance to develop your skills, be healthy and change your life. Without Special Olympics, I don’t know where I would be.”

Omar El Shenawy, Special Olympics Egypt

Omar is from Egypt and currently competes in Special Olympics Equestrian and Aquatics having joined Special Olympics at age 18 after graduating from a youth soccer league organized by a sports club in this hometown. Omar says Special Olympics has impacted his life for the better in many way including giving him more confidence to get out into the community, meet people, and socialize. It has helped him excel in all aspects of his life, allowing him to feel like he is capable and can excel if he does his best at anything he does. His favorite sport is Equestrian because he is an animal lover, especially horses and horse-back riding is good at improving his strength and helping with back problems. He enjoys all sports for enjoyment but also because they elevate his fitness level. His proudest sports moment and personal best was winning the Arabian Championship in 2010.

When not competing, Omar enjoys music, particular the work of Amrdiab, a well-known Egyptian singer, and Omar is himself a musician, playing drums in two different bands. He also enjoys working out at a local gym where he is able to exercise along people without disabilities and make friends. He is a student at the Canadian International College in Cairo, majoring in mass communications. Omar recently completed a one month training at an Egyptian public relations company. He travels for Special Olympics Egypt, having given speeches at several events including the regional Unified Football Cup.

Pam Langille, Special Olympics New Hampshire, USA

Pam is from New Hampshire and currently competes in Basketball but also has history of training and competing in Unified Golf and Unified Triathlons both with Special Olympics. She started with Special Olympics when she was 8 after hearing about it through her elementary school teacher. She chose Basketball because she played JV Basketball in high school and because her family is very sports orientated. Special Olympics has done many things for her including teaching her to overcome her shyness. Pam competed in the first ever Unified Triathlon during the 2014 USA Games.

Pam’s hobbies include bike riding, walking her Golden Retriever, Gabe and helping out at Sunday school. She works at a Special Olympics New Hampshire as a receptionist. She is the youngest of 12 and has a twin sister, Patty who competes in Special Olympics as well.

Selina Ao Ieong, Special Olympics Macau

Selina is from Macau, China and currently competes in Bocce. She started with Special Olympics when she was 16 after hearing about it through school. Special Olympics has done many things for her by allowing her to accept her disability and to come out to the world about her struggles. Special Olympics has taught her to be proud and know that she is capable of doing something that has worth. She also credits Special Olympics with allowing her to make new friends and to be healthier. Her personal best in was two gold medals in Bocce that she received during the 2011 World Games. She has competed in the World Games in 2011 and 2013 Regional Games in Australia.

Selina enjoys watching movies, singing and surfing the internet.  She works at Special Olympics Macau as a clerk. Her favorite celebrity is Joey Yung. 

Stephanie Handojo, Special Olympics Indonesia

To Stephanie, the athlete oath isn't just a saying. It's a valuable tool for overcoming her greatest fears. When she first joined Special Olympics, her fear of water made it almost impossible to compete in her sport of aquatics. She didn't dare venture into the deep end of the pool and even got sick before competitions. She said, "I am afraid of the water. It is very cold and very deep. I am afraid to drown. I got sick before the competition. But I am always reminded to be brave in the attempt."

Today, she is one of the best Special Olympics aquatics athletes in Indonesia. And while she continues to struggle with her fear of the water, she also continues to overcome that fear by choosing to compete in aquatics. Being involved in Special Olympics has given Stephanie the confidence she needs to celebrate her abilities and pursue her dreams. As an International Global Messenger, she wants to promote health and educate young athletes.

Stephanie is an accomplished athlete, winning gold medals in the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens and the 2013 Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games in Australia, and also is an inspiring leader in the Special Olympics community. As Youth Leader of Athlete Leadership Program, she works with youth, with and without intellectual disabilities, to promote Special Olympics in schools and communities. Stephanie was even chosen by UNICEF and the British Council as the Torch Bearer during the London Olympics in 2012.

When she's not busy with Special Olympics or athlete leadership, Stephanie enjoys playing the piano, cooking, badminton and socializing with her friends. She even owns a laundry business in Jakarta and manages the team of employees as if they were family. Her favorite athletes are Ade Ray (bodybuilder), Susi Susanti (badminton), Ivana Lie (badminton), and Albert C. Sutanto (swimmer), and her favorite celebrities are Giring Nidji (singer) and Ferry Salim (a UNICEF ambassador who she met through her involvement as a torch bearer for the London Olympics).

Yoona Kim, Special Olympics Republic of Korea

Yoona has been participating in Special Olympics since elementary school.  Special Olympics is a family affair for the entire family.  Yoona's mother is  a Chairperson of Special Olympics Korea.  Yoona's brother, 17-year old Joe, attends school in the United States, in New Hampshire, and has been dedicated to organizing a unified basketball league to promote Special Olympics Unified Sports.  Special Olympics Unified Sports is where people with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same team together, opening hearts, and breaking down the barriers that exist for people with intellectual disabilities.

First wanting to strengthen her legs, Yoona started swimming for Special Olympics Korea eight years ago.  She says Special Olympics has, "changed her life and given her self-confidence, self-esteem and has made her proud of herself."  Yoona is an accomplished athlete who is not only involved in sport, but also in many leadership activities within the Special Olympics movement.  Yoona served as a co-chair during the Youth Activation Summit at the 2013 Special Olympics World Games in Pyeongchang and was elected as President at the Youth Activation Summit at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Greece.

Today, her passion is spreading the word about Special Olympics Unified Sports and playing the drums in her band, Yoonaband.  For the last six years, she has played in Yoonaband.  The band is made up of seven girls, including five girls without intellectual disabilities.  She is currently a senior in college, studying music as her major. "My two passions are unified sports and drumming.  Unified Sports must get off the ground in Korea and I'm going to help make that happen and do whatever I can to encourage more people to play and get involved with unified sports.  With playing the drums, I forget everything else.  I'm the most happy when I get to play with my band.  Special Olympics gave me the confidence to find my true passions and I'm forever grateful.