The team has never sent as many athletes to its Olympics as this year, and there are four years left before hosting the next games.
On June 5, 145 athletes from Minnesota will proudly represent Special Olympics USA 2022 at the Opening Ceremony. They will pass the torch during the closing ceremonies as Minnesota hosts the 2026 Special Olympics USA.
“What’s really exciting about this is that we now have a four-year-old track to promote,” Dave Dorn, president and CEO of Special Olympics Minnesota, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
“[We want to] let every corner of the state and every person in the state be involved in this celebration.
Dorn said that, like so many organizations, they too have struggled throughout the pandemic. He added that hosting the games in 2026 gives them a unique opportunity to grow their brand and allow many other families to be part of their work.
At the heart of this work, Dorn said, are the athletes, with inclusion being the primary goal.
“We are much more than an athletics event for people with intellectual disabilities,” Dorn said, adding, “it’s a unified movement for people with and without disabilities – rooted in sport for sure – but [it also provides] leadership in their schools and communities.
For these reasons, a member of the Minnesota team, Park Gilmer, 22, of Buffalo, has transformed into the young man he is today.
“I’m very excited and very honored,” Gilmer told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS during one of his final swim practices before heading to Florida for the games.
Gilmer is on the autism spectrum and a multi-sport athlete – but he will represent Minnesota in aquatics, trying to swim to a medal.
“I really hope to get a medal and I will do my best,” Gilmer said.
While making Minnesota proud with gear would be nice, Gilmer said he’s looking forward to meeting some new friends.
Gilmer’s parents, Dale and Julie, tell us there was a time when that probably wouldn’t have been the case, but Special Olympics helped break his shell.
“He’s a social butterfly,” Dale Gilmer said of his son who has become something of a local celebrity, adding that the local Buffalo newspaper recently ran an article about him. “We can’t go anywhere in town where somebody doesn’t know [him].”
Dale and Julie call Park’s story quite a journey – he and his older brother Russell were adopted from Korea.
“It was life changing,” Julie Gilmer said of Park joining Special Olympics.
The two say Park was on medication before, but stopped needing it after joining. As for the message for other parents on their behalf, it is simple: “get your kids involved in the Special Olympics.
Full information on how to get involved can be found here.