In April 2011, Colombia didn’t have a Special Olympics program but a committed group of people saw the need for one. Colombia was changing: people with intellectual disabilities were being encouraged to participate in education, jobs, and society for the first time. It was a great time to bring Special Olympics back to Colombia.
I felt very happy and I also felt very comfortable.
Colombia is a country with over one and a half million people with intellectual disabilities, so starting a Special Olympics Program was a big project. To begin, they needed staff, volunteers, and coaches. Most importantly, they needed to find athletes. The Program created plans for athlete training, competitions, and fundraising. Special Olympics Colombia grew quickly—within the first year, they had launched a Healthy Athletes Program while also holding multiple competitions. This fast progress was given a major boost from a Christmas Records Grant of $67,000, which they received in 2011.
Special Olympics Colombia faced challenges along the way but by 2012, they had recruited far more coaches and athletes then they ever thought possible. At the same time, they began building partnerships with organizations like Antioquia Disability League, who helped them send 32 Colombian swimmers to the Puerto Rico World Swimming Championships in 2012.
Special Olympics Colombia has also been able to spread the message that Special Olympics is about creating an inclusive environment where athletes encounter life on a more equal playing field. Edison Barrto, who has participated in Special Olympics since he was 8, says that when he started competing with Special Olympics Colombia “I felt very happy and I also felt very comfortable.” Now, he feels “very proud” and likes most of all that Special Olympics allows him “to participate in a team and to succeed.” Special Olympics Colombia now gives almost 7,000 athletes these opportunities, and is determined to hold more competitions and recruit new athletes every year.