Ann James is a Special Olympics Florida original.
The Okaloosa County resident has been participating for more years than the organization has existed. It’s possible she’s the very first gold-medal athlete in Florida and the athlete who has competed for the longest period of time.
Most remarkable of all, she still competes today at age 64.
James’ connection to Special Olympics began in 1969, three years before Special Olympics Florida was founded. She was 11-years-old and part of a county group led by Special Olympics Florida Hall of Famer Charlie McFarland.
James’ is an all-around athlete, but her specialty is swimming. In 1969, she was part of a team that McFarland took to a competition in Columbia, S.C. There, James captured two gold medals in swimming. She’s collected dozens of other awards since then.
It’s been an amazing career for an athlete who, as a young girl, was institutionalized and given little chance of achieving great things.
James says she will continue to train and compete “until I can’t walk anymore.” And then? “I’ll go to support my friends.”