“The Revolution Is Inclusion” is Special Olympics International's movement that centers around their athletes’ strengths and celebrates unity.
The word special is often used in a positive connotation to recount athletes or legendary moments in sports. Still, there is a stigma around the word. Why? Special Olympics athletes work equally as hard to accomplish great things, both on and off the field, and deserve the same respect as professional and collegiate athletes.
Special Olympics International has launched a new ‘Yeah, I am Special’ campaign to highlight the true definition of being special
Joshua Olds from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Madi “Maddog” Madory from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma were selected to be the faces of the “Yeah, I am Special,” campaign. Last month, on Giving Tuesday, the two Special Olympics athletes were surprised with a billboard reveal in New York City. Madory is a 28-year-old powerlifter with a variety of weightlifting accomplishments. Olds is a 17-year-old triathlete and swimmer who has already competed in 17 triathlons and has several swimming records but is motivated to keep going.
FanSided had the opportunity to catch up with Olds, his mother (Lynda), and Special Olympics International’s VP of Marketing Amy Wise to discuss the unveiling of the billboard, the campaign mission, and more.
Wise is an experienced executive who has spent the past five years working with Special Olympics. Before then, she gained valuable experience with leadership and management roles in the AAF, NHL, AHL, and collegiate athletics, citing her past experiences as a learning tool for her work with Special Olympics International: "You learn a lot about what's good in sports, what's tough in sports, and what works well,” Wise said. “But this is this is the role that I'm meant to do,” she added.
What Wise likes about working at Special Olympics International is the ability to learn and meet new people: “Every day, I get to wake up, and I get to learn something new,” Wise said. “We're global. So, I get to meet people from all around the world” she added.
When asking Wise how this campaign came about, she credited Tombras, the agency that Special Olympics has been collaborating: “They [Tombras] brainstormed with athletes and families, and then came to us with the idea of pushing back on the perceptions around the word special and taking the word back,” Wise mentioned. “That led to creating this limited edition merchandise and here we are,” said Wise.
The selection process for which athletes should be the faces of the billboards in New York City wasn’t easy given the endless list of hard-working athletes in Special Olympics, but Olds and Madory stood out compared to the rest. “We were looking for extraordinary stories and stories that people could relate to and truly understand how extraordinary it was from a sports perspective regardless of how much information they had about Special Olympics,” Wise stated.
Olds and Madory were clear choices, per Wise. “We want people to pass these billboards and be like: ‘Wow, that's an athlete.’ Joshua [Olds] and Maddie [Madory] fit the bill... they live athlete lifestyles to the core.”
After speaking with Olds and his mother, Lynda, it is easy to see how he has gotten to this point. He is a motivated, hard-working, and soft-spoken athlete who is dedicated to his craft and being the greatest version of himself he can be, truly embodying what it means to be special.
He spends multiple hours daily exercising/swimming and his mother makes sure he consumes enough protein and nutrients as an athlete who trains tirelessly, burning countless calories. It is a team effort between them, but Olds has a support system around him to succeed.
It all began when Lynda told Olds about swimming. He decided: “Why not try it?” When Olds was younger, Lynda taught a class for people who wanted to be foster or adoptive parents. One of the students in her class shared with Lynda that their child who had nonverbal autism, had drowned. Since hearing that story, Lynda “became obsessed” with Olds learning to swim. “He loved the water, but he was afraid of not being able to stand,” said Lynda. His mother “never thought this was going to happen, but he’s competing with the sharks and he’s no longer a minnow.”
Olds cited his work ethic as a factor that makes him special: “Trying so hard to reach for a goal, even if it hurts sometimes. That’s what matters.” Olds added that being special to him means that he is "unique in my [his] own way."
Both he and his mother were amazing during the billboard unveiling. “It felt really exciting,” Olds said. “I’m on a billboard in New York City,” he added. His mother called it “so surreal.”
“You know as a parent, I would always say when I saw the things that he [Old] was doing, I said: ‘Wow! One day you're going to be up in lights.’ I didn't expect it to be so soon, but I knew it would happen, and I was in such awe," Lynda said.
Despite already having completed 17 triathlons and setting swimming records, Olds’ competitive spirit drives him to keep pushing forward. With the New Year approaching, Olds has his sights set on a list of goals, including completing a full marathon and participating in an Ironman triathlon once he is old enough.
Special Olympics has high hopes for 2024 and beyond thanks to their athletes and widespread support from volunteers as well as their celebrity ambassadors such as Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Damian Lillard, Phoenix Suns All-Star Devin Booker, actor Chris Pratt, Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, and more.
This campaign is driven by the Inclusion Manifesto in an attempt to put an end to discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. Sign the Inclusion Pledge if you’d like to be part of the movement. The movement encourages everyone to act now while building a more inclusive world through a common denominator like sports and focusing on the power of respect.
Why We Play features stories about the power of sports to bring us together, overcome obstacles, make positive change and reach everyone. Read more here.