Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Winnie Downey

#50for50: Volume 35
▪️ Winnie Downey
▪️ 51 years old
▪️ Delaware County

“I’ve lived in Delaware County my whole life. I was first introduced to Special Olympics in elementary school. We did track and field — the 50-yard dash, the softball throw and the broad jump. We got ribbons, we didn’t get medals at the time. Back then, when you were Special Ed, you were kind of in a class by yourself. You weren’t exposed to the kids not in Special Ed. They made fun of you and they just made you uncomfortable. And I don’t think a lot of them understand what we go through. And Special Olympics, back in the mid-70s, you didn’t hear about going to Penn State or going to Villanova. They said ‘Don’t play with them kids. They’ve got special needs, they’re stupid.’ And today, it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s playing together. They’re all playing together. … So after elementary school, I went off to middle school and high school and I didn’t get back involved until 2002. That’s when I started to play softball, soccer, bowling and volleyball. My all-time favorite memory was from 2011. We were playing Berks County for the gold in softball. We tied it up, it was 8-8, and when we went out in the field, they scored 10 runs. So it was 18-8 and we went to hit and ended up winning, 19-18, on a walkoff. I didn’t even play much that game, I sat on the bench. But I didn’t care. It was the best highlight I remember. We were so happy that day. It was like we won the World Series. For me, that’s what it’s all about. I think it’s a big accomplishment to say, ‘I did a good job.’ I don’t display my medals because they’re in my keepsake box. … I like being an Athlete Leader and a Global Messenger. Two years ago I went to Washington, D.C. and spoke with Senators and members of the House of Representatives. We got to walk around the city and had a really good time. I hope our message got across. I got to meet Stephen Colbert. I gave him a pair of socks, they were 50th Anniversary socks for Special Olympics, and then I got my picture taken with him. That was such a highlight. We had a ball. He was very nice. He shook my hand and then I found out two weeks after that that he was a good Catholic, so my mother would have loved him. … I see change happening for the good. A lot of schools have Best Buddies or Unified teams. And I helped to get Unified bocce into Archbishop Carroll. I came back from the Leadership Conference and called my nephew Matt’s school and talked to his teacher. And with the help of Mike [Bovino], we got Unified bocce into the Archdiocese [of Philadelphia] and I was so proud when they started to play. … I became an Athlete Leader because I don’t want my nephew Matt’s generation and my nephew Owen’s generation — I don’t want them to be behind a wall anymore. Like how Eunice Kennedy Shriver said that she didn’t want her sister behind a wall. I don’t want them being treated like second-class citizens. I want to be a leader so the next generation can take over and learn leadership from me or other people. I just want to get the word out that you’re no different than anybody else. That you’re not lost in the world. You’re part of this world just like I am. I want Special Olympics to keep going for the next 50 years, to keep it going so nobody has to be behind a wall. I want my nephews to experience going places, like I did, and hopefully someday go to National or World Games and I want to make them realize that if you put your mind to it, you can do it.”

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Special Olympics Pennsylvania

The mission of Special Olympics Pennsylvania is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.

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