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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Athletes with special needs showcase remarkable adaptability, whether it’s modifying training routines or navigating unique challenges within their sports. This adaptability extends beyond the athletic field, influencing various aspects of their lives.

Support Networks

A strong sense of camaraderie and support is a defining element. Athletes often form tight-knit communities, fostering encouragement, understanding, and shared triumphs over hurdles, both on and off the sports arena.

Personal Growth

Every athlete, regardless of ability, experiences personal growth through their athletic pursuits. The journey instills qualities such as discipline, perseverance, and self-confidence, contributing to holistic development.

Inclusive Spirit

The inclusive spirit within the realm of adaptive sports creates an environment where differences are embraced. Athletes celebrate each other’s achievements, fostering a community built on mutual respect and shared aspirations.


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.

By recognizing and celebrating these common grounds, we can appreciate the power of sports to unite, inspire, and transform the lives of athletes with special needs. Furthermore, their journeys serve as beacons of strength, highlighting the shared values that make sports a universal language 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.




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