Swim star Atkinson declared Special Olympics ambassador

Friday, December 04, 2020

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JAMAICAN swim star Alia Atkinson was yesterday officially declared a Special Olympics champion ambassador, providing her the opportunity to join a formidable list of women who have brought awareness to the movement.

As champion ambassador, Atkinson, who turns 32 next week, is expected to advocate for the mission of Special Olympics primarily in the Caribbean. She will work closely with Special Olympics Caribbean Initiative Director Lorna Bell to help elevate awareness, motivate athletes, and boost support for the movement throughout the region.

The champion ambassador programme — developed this year — will function in tandem with the global ambassador programme.

Fittingly, the alliance with Atkinson was made official on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, annually recognised on December 3.

Influential women to have impacted the movement include its late founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Special Olympics International Chief Executive Officer Mary Davis.

Jamaica's Minister of Sport Olivia Grange said Atkinson, an Olympian and record-breaking swimmer, is the ideal candidate to trumpet the calls for inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities.

“It is my hope that… she can use her platform and voice to draw attention to the issues affecting our sportsmen and women with intellectual disabilities. An athlete like Alia can bring life and energy to any such conversation — one that is needed and must be had. She is truly a leader in and out of the pool,” Grange said during yesterday's virtual interaction.

“As Alia joins a cadre of sport persons who share in the honour of being ambassadors for the Special Olympics movement it brings into sharp focus the need for everyone to partner in advocating sport for all and equal opportunities. As a Government we fully appreciate the impact and unifying role of sport in our society,” the sport minister added.

Tony Wyllie, the president and managing director of Special Olympics North America (SONA), said that the collaboration with Atkinson is a silver lining at the tail end of a year that has been dominated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a very, very proud day. This has been a very taxing year for everybody, but I'm very happy that we are going to end this year on a good note,” he said.

“I'm half Jamaican so I'm very proud… I have to commend and salute Lorna [Bell] for her leadership and for her efforts in this part of this region. I'm very happy to welcome [Alia] to the movement and I know we are going to be rooting for you in the Olympics,” the SONA boss continued.

In accepting the responsibility, Jamaica's most decorated swimmer noted her admiration for the courage and commitment shown by people with disabilities, and said she will bring awareness and positive change.

“Everything that I've seen over the years of me being involved in sports, and seeing the Paralympics and Special Olympics, and just seeing the dedication of an athlete, no matter in whatever capacity, they give it their all.

“I know for this role… I hope it will exceed everybody's expectations, and something I can bring to Special Olympics Caribbean and Special Olympics worldwide. I hope this partnership can grow and will become something new and different and can change and challenge the views we currently have.

“I'm extremely humble and I thank you very much for this honour and acceptance and I'm looking forward to our partnership for the coming years,” she said.

Special Olympics is a global organisation that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition, in a variety of Olympic-type sports, for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Intellectual disabilities can either be acquired or genetic, and can include cases of cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, autism, and traumatic brain injury.

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