5 Athletes With Special Needs

5 athletes with special needs

It can be difficult to imagine yourself succeeding in a certain field if you don’t have role models to look to. If you have special needs, it may be hard for you to hold on to hope that you could be a successful athlete, even if team or individual sports are your passion, because there are few and far between special needs athletes showcased in the media. If your child has special needs, it may be hard for you to believe in their abilities to perform well in sports, making it even harder to encourage them when the time comes.

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At Special Strong, we understand the importance of representation, which is why we’d like to take a second to shine a spotlight on these 5 athletes with special needs:


1. Jim Abbott

Sport: Baseball

Team or Organization: New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, etc.

Special Needs: Abbott was born without his right hand.

Awards and Achievements: Gold medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics, pitched 888 strikeouts in his career


2. Natalie du Toit

Sport: Swimming

Team or Organization: Paralympics, Olympics, Commonwealth Games

Special Needs: du Toit’s left leg was amputated at the knee after she was in a car accident in 2001.

Awards and Achievements: Gold medals in the Paralympics and Commonwealth Games, became the third amputee ever to join the Olympics


3. Alana Nichols

Sport: Basketball

Team or Organization: Paralympics

Special Needs: Nichols became paralyzed from the waist down after attempting to do a backflip while snowboarding in Colorado in 2000.

Awards and Achievements: Basketball scholarship to play at the University of Arizona, silver medal in the 2006 Wheelchair Basketball World Championship


4. Rick Hoyt

Sport: Marathons

Team or Organization: Boston Marathon, Ironman Triathlons, etc.

Special Needs: Hoyt was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth after his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck in the womb.

Awards and Achievements: Rick Hoyt and his brother, Dick, have developed boats, bicycles, and wheelchairs that enable him and others with special needs to participate in marathons and triathlons.


5. Marla Runyan

Sport: Track

Team or Organization: Paralympics, Olympics

Special Needs: At age nine, Runyan lost her eyesight due to Stargardt’s Disease.

Awards and Achievements: five gold medals in the Paralympics, one silver medal in the Paralympics, became the first legally blind athlete to play in the Sydney Olympics


Finding Common Ground: Shared Experiences Among Athletes With Special Needs

Athletes with special needs, although diverse in abilities, share common ground that transcends physical or cognitive differences. This shared space is a testament to the resilience, determination, and passion that characterize their athletic journeys.

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When considering the characteristic of adaptability, it’s difficult not to be impressed by athletes with special needs. They display high levels of adaptability as they adjust to altered training routines, manage challenging settings, and push beyond the physical and mental barriers associated with their specific needs. However, their adaptability isn’t just limited to the sports field. They apply this same resilience and flexibility in daily life situations, whether navigating the challenges of work, school, relationships, or independent living. Truly, their capacity to adjust and adapt is not only exemplary but also inspiring.

Support Networks

Moreover, pursuing athletics, regardless of bodily or cognitive ability, can lead to significant personal growth and life skills development. As athletes strive to improve their performance, they not only develop a sense of discipline but also cultivate resilience and grow their self-confidence. Additionally, through challenge and competition, they learn to engage with their limitations in a constructive manner. These valuable lessons aren’t just limited to the sports field; they can be applied to various dimensions of life, including personal relationships, academic pursuits, and workplace dynamics, ultimately contributing to the well-rounded growth of an individual.

Personal Growth

Pursuing athletics, irrespective of bodily or cognitive ability, can lead to significant personal growth and life skills development. As athletes strive to improve their performance, they imbibe a sense of discipline. In addition, they cultivate resilience and grow their self-confidence. Through challenge and competition, they learn to engage with their limitations in a constructive manner. Moreover, these lessons aren’t just restricted to the sports field. They carry over into various dimensions of life, including personal relationships, academic pursuits, and workplace dynamics. Consequently, this contributes to the well-rounded growth of an individual.

Inclusive Spirit

The spirit of inclusion is inherently woven into the fabric of adaptive sports, helping to foster a positive and respectful community. This framework ensures that all athletes, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, can participate and compete at their own pace, without fear of judgement or alienation. Furthermore, this inclusive ethos helps to dispel harmful stereotypes and promote diversity. Additionally, it acknowledges the abilities of every athlete, beyond skill and competition. Moreover, a sense of unity and camaraderie pervades the landscape of adaptive sports, creating a space where achievements are collectively celebrated and aspirations are shared. Additionally, this inclusive spirit furthers social understanding and drives unity, engendering a sense of belonging and mutual respect among all participants.


Athletes with special needs often become advocates for inclusivity, breaking down barriers and inspiring others. Their stories transcend sports, becoming powerful narratives that challenge stereotypes and promote awareness.

Diversity of Sports

From adaptive skiing to wheelchair basketball, the diversity of sports engaged in by athletes with special needs highlights the breadth of possibilities. Each sport becomes a canvas for skill development, competition, and personal accomplishment.


The resilience demonstrated by these athletes in the face of challenges is a unifying thread. Whether overcoming physical limitations or societal perceptions, their resilience is a source of inspiration for all.

Joy of Achievement

The sheer joy experienced upon achieving goals, big or small, unites athletes with special needs. These triumphs become not only personal victories but also moments of celebration for the entire community.

Breaking Stereotypes

Athletes challenge preconceived notions about what individuals with special needs can achieve. Through their performances, they redefine expectations, paving the way for greater inclusivity in the world of sports.

Celebrating Differences

Ultimately, the common ground among athletes with special needs lies in the celebration of differences. Each athlete brings a unique set of skills and experiences, contributing to the rich tapestry of the sports community.

We can recognize and celebrate the common grounds that exist in sports. This allows us to appreciate the unifying power of sports. Sports have the power to inspire and transform, particularly for athletes with special needs. Furthermore, the journeys of these athletes serve as beacons of strength. These journeys highlight the shared values that make sports a universal language. This language speaks of determination, triumph, and inclusivity.

Whether you have or your child has physical or intellectual special needs – whether you or your child have had those special needs from birth or developed them due to illness or an accident – there’s someone who has blazed the trail ahead of you and paved a path toward athletic success. You don’t have to be a star athlete to succeed. You just have to be better than you were yesterday – be a little stronger, a little faster and have a little more endurance.

When you start your personal training sessions at Special Strong, you’ll get the training and the encouragement you need to push forward. In addition to teaching the best workouts for your needs or your child’s needs, we teach perseverance. We teach the habit of saying “yes” to challenges. Push yourself today by signing up for our 7-day FREE trial. See the Special Strong difference before you ever pay a dime.



Special Strong provides adaptive fitness for children, adolescents, and adults with mental, physical and cognitive challenges. Start your own Special Strong gym franchise today and create a lasting impact on your community.