There was a time, back in the early, exhausting days of Special Olympics Florida, that Nancy Sawyer was known to keep a yoga mat in the organization’s Clermont headquarters. And it wasn’t for mid-day mindfulness exercises.
“Sometimes, there just weren’t enough hours in the day,” she says. “A few times, I was there all night, so I slept on the mat.”
Nancy watched – and helped guide – the growth of Special Olympics Florida as both a volunteer and, beginning in the 1980s, as a staff member. She said the organization, at first, felt a bit like a modern-day start-up, with employees, volunteers, and athletes all learning on the fly. When one county discovered a process that worked well, it was quickly shared with colleagues around the state.
“We were all learning from each other,” she says. “We were all like sponges.”
Over time, practices became more organized and events more competitive. The addition of Unified Sports, Nancy says, was a critical milestone in the struggle for inclusion because it brought together people of all abilities. There is still work to be done, but Nancy believes continued progress is inevitable because athletes have emerged as such powerful advocates.
“I talked to one athlete and she told me she wants to be the CEO of a state program. The generation coming up is our hope for the Inclusion Revolution. The sky’s the limit.”