Articles in Athletes

Meet the Team Representing Iowa at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games

Special Olympics Iowa is pleased to announce the team that will be representing Iowa at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games next year in Orlando! In a little less than one year – June 5-12, 2022 – more than 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean will travel to Orlando to compete before more than 125,000 fans, spectators, and volunteers.

Among those over 5,500 athletes and coaches will be Team Special Olympics Iowa:

Athletics Bowling
Head Coach: Rob Wagner Head Coach: Julie Pence
Assistant Coach: Brenda Haefner Assistant Coach: Angela Wright
Assistant Coach: Kirk Haefner Nicole Skelley
Tomi DeGrado Shelly Snyder
Abbi Stastny Tyler Leech
Nathan Paulsen Patrick Gulbranson
Alexandra Fountain Jody Sheriff
Abigail Cvrk Kristy Sheriff
Charity Hodson Tasha Conklin
Brandon Baier Kevin Conklin
Collins Clingman
John Flannery Cheerleading
Patrick Smith Head Coach: Kelly Cocks
Jonathan Blankenship Assistant Coach: Teri Christensen
Assistant Coach: Helen Dao
Bocce Leon Nguyen
Head Coach: Molly Vander Linden Dustin Burke
Assistant Coach: Laurie Fallon Emily Mulder
Kim Lively Daniel Custis
Matthew Johnson Ian Kastner
Sue Davis Teddy Velman
Cari Davis
Gracy Elsenbast Equestrian
Emma Harle Head Coach: Kim Stine
Emma Marlow Abbie Kliegl
Erin Peterson
Flag Football  Head Coach: Troy Betsworth
Head Coach: Tim Atkin Assistant Coach: Rob Baldus
Assistant Coach: Bruce Barnett Amanda Bride
Assistant Coach: Corey Leonhard Jessica Copple
Eric St. Clair Mitchell Betsworth
Chris Ashbaugh Isaac Baldus
Matthew Trujillo Joshua Davis
Jay Small Kevin Ahrendsen
Kevin Brockert
Angela Collins Swimming
Adie Strong Head Coach: Mark Robinson
Danielle Mally Assistant Coach: Michelle Bussanmas
Brad Small Christina Rasmussen
Travis Moss Kaitlin Colwell
Desiree Peterson
Golf Emily White
Head Coach: Keith Pease Patrick Cunningham
Jesse Pease Keen Harvey
Jason Pease Adam Rininger
Brian Rolek Preston Stevens
Jill Southworth
Intercollegiate Unified Basketball Head Coach: Sydney Dommer
Head Coach: Tommy Schorer Angela Dohrn
Assistant Coach: Adam Walsh Alexandria Brooks
Austin Climer Billy Habermann
William Woodruff Nathan Williams
Dylan Soppe
Elliot Lee Youth Leadership Experience
Hayli Schumacher Mentor: Lisa Klien
Cali Schmitz Jacob Whack
Jaison Marks
Jenah McCarty Head of Delegation: Seann DeMaris
Maddie Schulte Assistant Head of Delegation: Rhonda Schwarzkopf
Wes Jackson Additional Staff: Kevin Kemp

The USA Games will kick off on June 5, 2022, with the Opening Ceremony in Exploria Stadium.  The games will showcase 19 Olympic-style team and individual sports, including athletics (track & field), basketball, bocce, bowling, cheerleading, equestrian, flag football, golf, gymnastics, open water swimming, powerlifting, soccer, softball, stand up paddleboard, surfing, swimming, tennis, triathlon, and volleyball.

The USA Games will be hosted at various venues across Orlando, with the main location being ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort. Other sporting facilities across Orlando include Boardwalk Bowl Entertainment Center, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Lake Minneola Waterfront Park, Lucky’s Lake, Orange County National Gold Center, Osceola Heritage Park, Rosen Aquatic Center, and USTA National Campus.

To learn more about the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games visit Follow the organization on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Special Olympics Health Messenger – Lisa Spencer

The only way to end exclusion is to have people who face these challenges daily help create the solution. People with intellectual disabilities are guiding us toward solutions in our health work. The Special Olympics Health Messenger program was born out of this notion of participation. In order to create more effective public health programs, improve health systems, and engage communities to support the health of people with intellectual disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities must have leadership roles in the health system.

Special Olympics Health Messengers are athletes who are trained to serve as health and wellness leaders, educators, advocates, and role models within their Special Olympics communities, as well as their community at large. They are leading their teams, families, friends, and communities to pursue healthy lifestyles, and are advocating for healthcare providers and governments to adopt inclusive policies around health, wellness services, education, and resources for people with intellectual disabilities.

Since the pandemic began, Special Olympics North America has completed three virtual Health Messenger trainings. Special Olympics Iowa’s very own Lisa Spencer was chosen to be a member of the third cohort of virtual Health Messenger trainees. Read more about Lisa’s story below:

Two years ago, Lisa Spencer had things she wanted to do, like feeling good while showing horses, but her weight would get in the way. Lisa knew something had to change, so she began going to the gym and focusing on nutrition and water intake. Since Lisa started her weight loss journey, she has lost over 140 pounds and gained a passion for health.

Lisa’s newfound passion for health and fitness led her to apply and become a Special Olympics Health Messenger. She hopes to use her weight loss journey to inspire others. Lisa’s goal as a Health Messenger is to help fellow athletes and her community lead a healthy and happy lifestyle. She has already begun working towards her goal by speaking with different groups about her health journey and what goes into leading a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Lisa wants everyone to remember: “It’s never too late to start living a healthy life.”

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USA Games: Team Iowa to earn 27 Gold, 20 Silver, and 8 Bronze

The Fourth Annual USA Games took place On July 1-6, 2018 in Seattle. More than 4,000 Special Olympics athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, all in search of a gold. Team Iowa was among those and included: 10 Coaches, 29 Athletes, 4 Unified Partners, and 3 Athlete Leadership Experience members.


There were 14 Olympic-type sports offered at the USA Games. Out of those 14, Team Iowa competed in: athletics (track and field), flag football, powerlifting, swimming, tennis, unified bocce, and unified bowling.

Overall, Team Iowa had a final medal count of 27 gold, 20 silver, and 8 bronze. Among those medals included powerlifter Mitchell Betsworth (pictured above), who earned 3 Golds and 1 Silver. Mitchell says he, “loved competing and meeting all the athletes from around the country. It was great to make a lot of new friends not only from Iowa, but nationwide.” Mitchell’s father, Troy, who is also his coach made the trip to Seattle as well. “What I remember most about coaching Mitchell and Brad Small were the nerves. I was so nervous that I got down on one knee and thoguht I was giving Mitchell my last words of encouragement, and realized I was firing up a lifter from New Hampshire instead of my son!” “The coaches are constantly cheering for all of the lifters to do their best, so it was fitting” Betsworth commented.

Making Team Iowa proud, Athlete Brandon Baier with the Griswold Tigers as the only athlete at the USA Games to qualify for both the High Performance 100 M Dash and the High Performance Shot put. While in Seattle, two Team Iowa members received recognition for being in the Top 10 in their category of the Steps Challenge (offered by the National office). There were 2,580 indviduals registered in the Challenge. Congrats to Brandon Baier, with the Griswold Tigers, for placing seventh. Another congrats to Ron Schmidt with Sioux City West Middle School for making the Unified Sports partner Top 10.

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SOIA Awards Unified Champion Schools Participants

Haley Goldsberry

Special Olympics Iowa recognized individuals who embraced the Unified model during the 2017-2018 school year at a Unified banquet held in May. As part of our school based program Unified Champion Schools, Hayley Goldsberry of the Iowa Connections Academy and Tyler Hungate of Linn-Marr High School were both selected as scholarships recipients for the work they have done to help develop a more Unified environment  in their schools and community. Tyler Hungate

Special Olympics Iowa also recognized the Des Moines Public Schools for adopting the Unified Champion Schools model with a district-wide approach.

Becky Curry & Liz Grier

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50th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago 17-21

Celebrating 50 Years of Unity and Empowerment

The spark that became today’s Special Olympics movement ignited at the first 1968 International Summer Games in Chicago, Il., USA.

Five decades later, Special Olympics is returning to Chicago to launch the year-long global Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations this July.

Join us as we play together, learn from each other, and chart an inspiring course for the future!

Special Olympics International, Special Olympics Illinois and Special Children’s Charities in Chicago are uniting to host nearly a week of exciting events to celebrate the first 50 years of Special Olympics and to launch the movement into the future.

SO_50_withdate-01Events planned for July 2018 in Chicago include the first-ever Special Olympics Unified Cup. Special Olympics Iowa cheerleaders will be cheering at the Unified Cup.

Also planned is a star-studded Global Day of Inclusion, where the public can “Play Unified” and join in fun athletic competition with Special Olympics athletes. There will also be a Law Enforcement Torch Run Commemorative Run and the ceremonial lighting of the Special Olympics Eternal Flame of Hope, which will symbolize our burning passion for inclusion and justice for people with intellectual disabilities.

All Iowa athletes are invited to attend the 50th Anniversary events in Chicago July 17-21. More information about the events throughout the celebration can be found here.

50th Anniversary Schedule of Events

Special Olympics Unified Cup presented by Toyota
17 to 20 July 2018
Chicago, Illinois, USA

The inaugural Special Olympics Unified Cup competition will team people with and without intellectual disabilities from all over the world. A total of 24 international football/soccer teams will take part. The four-day event is presented by Toyota.

Learn more | Events schedule | FREE Tickets

Torch Run and Eternal Flame of Hope
20 July 2018
Chicago, Illinois, USA

The Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Law Enforcement Torch Run Commemorative Run will include Special Olympics athletes and law enforcement officers. The entire city will light up with a new eternal “Flame of Hope”—symbolizing a world of welcome and inclusion.

Join us | Events schedule |
Get Your Name On The Flame

Global Day of Inclusion
21 July 2018
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Soldier Field, the birthplace of Special Olympics, will host a massive celebration, a festival of inclusion that will serve as the spark for people around the world to commit to making their cities more inclusive. This family friendly festival will offer sports activities, interactive games, exhibits, delicious food offerings, and live entertainment.

Events schedule

Music Concert – LIVE!
21 July 2018
Chicago, Illinois, USA and around the world

Then comes a star-studded evening of inspiring entertainment at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island—and a live audience around the world.

Events schedule

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Team Iowa to Compete at USA Games in Seattle July 1-6

On July 1-6, 2018 – more than 4,000 Special Olympics athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will gather in Seattle to compete before tens of thousands of spectators and volunteers. The 2018 USA Games will showcase the limitless talents of people with intellectual disabilities while promoting the barrier-breaking power of sport to promote inclusion and acceptance. static1.squarespace

Among those 4,000 athletes and coaches will be Team Iowa.

The USA Games kick off with the spectacle of the Opening Ceremony at Husky Stadium on July 1, 2018 and will offer 14 Olympic-type sports: athletics (track and field), basketball, bocce, bowling, flag football, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, softball, stand up paddle boarding, swimming, tennis and volleyball.

Competitions will be held at venues across the Seattle area including the University of Washington, Celebration Park, Kenmore Lanes, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University, Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center and Willows Run Golf Club.

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2018 Des Moines Register Elite Athletes

From the Des Moines Register

The Register’s All-Iowa program honors the top athletes in 21 boys’ and girls’ high school sports in Iowa.

We also honor one additional group — the roughly 2,500 boys and girls who compete in the summer games of Special Olympics Iowa, which began Thursday in Ames.

These All-Iowa team recipients listed below were chosen by Special Olympics Iowa and “represent the spirit of the Special Olympics Iowa movement and have gone above and beyond to show their dedication to sport and sportsmanship. They represent SOIA in competitions, service to their fellow athletes, and leadership within the organization and their community,” according to the organization.

“We are very excited to recognize our outstanding athletes again this year along with all of the other top athletes in the state,” John Kliegl, president and CEO of Special Olympics Iowa, said. “These athletes work hard to compete in their sports, and serve as leaders not only on their Special Olympics teams, but also in their schools and communities. We are proud to have them representing Special Olympics Iowa.”

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Meet Team Iowa: Key Volunteer Ray Strekal

By Emma Finn


Ray Strekal will be attending the Special Olympics USA Games this July in Seattle, Washington as the Special Olympics Iowa (SOIA) Assistant Head of Delegation. This isn’t his first time volunteering at the Games, however. He has been to every USA Games. He even attend the original USA Games held in Ames, Iowa in 2006.

Strekal is excited to return to the USA Games this July. He explained how he has made many friendships over the years and how seeing people again is always a fun experience.

“It is always good to meet people at the USA Games from different states. It’s good for us to hear about each areas successes and problems while running events so we can learn some things and take that advice back with us,” says Strekal. 

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Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago

By Emma Finn

In 1968 the first Special Olympics International Summer Games were held in Chicago, Illinois. Now in 2018, Special Olympics, in honor of 50 years, is returning to Chicago to launch the year-long global Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations this July.

Special Olympics International, Special Olympics Illinois and Special Children’s Charities in Chicago are all coming together to host a week full of fun and exciting events to celebrate the first 50 years of Special Olympics. One event planned is the first-ever Special Olympics Unified Cup, complete with both soccer teams and cheer teams.

Epworth Western Dubuque High School will be representing Iowa at the event!  The team will be cheering the soccer athletes on as well as doing their routine. The team will also get to do a routine with other teams from all over the world. The 4-day competition happens 17-20 July at Toyota Park in Chicago. Unified teams – including players with and without intellectual disabilities—will compete alongside their local football/soccer club sponsor. 

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