You can now ‘sponsor’ Olympians on GoFundMe with new Special Olympics partnership

Image: YouTube / GoFundME

A new partnership will help Olympians get to Austria next month for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games, and it’s empowering the intellectual disability community in the process.

Crowdfunding platform GoFundMe announced a "global sponsorship" with the Special Olympics on Thursday, launching nearly 500 online campaigns to support athletes, teams and delegations. The effort not only encourages people around the world to pitch in, but also spotlights the personal stories of those competing.

More than 2,700 athletes from over 100 countries will compete in the Winter Games, which run March 14 through March 25. According to GoFundMe, it costs about $2,500 per athlete for travel, training, equipment, coaching and accommodations.

The fundraising campaigns will help offset those costs, and help the teams focus on what matters most: Community and sport.

Fifty percent of all campaign donations will support local delegations, while 25 percent will go to Special Olympics International and another 25 percent will go to the Games Organizing Committee.

Olympic champions like Simone Biles and Apolo Ohno are supporting the initiative, and YouTube stars and other influencers will participate by creating specific campaigns to "sponsor" an athlete or team.

"We are proud to partner with Special Olympics to help support these remarkable athletes and their communities," Rob Solomon, CEO of GoFundMe, said in a statement.

"GoFundMe’s mission is to empower people to help people, and Special Olympics has been helping to empower people with intellectual disabilities for almost 50 years. It’s an honor to share the stories of these competitors who have overcome obstacles," he said.


Olympic champion Hannah Teter (left) and Special Olympics gold medal snowboarder Daina Shilts.

In one campaign, U.S. Olympic snowboarder Hannah Teter is sponsoring 25-year-old Daina Shilts, whom she met at the 2013 Special Olympics in South Korea. Teter is raising $17,500 for Shilts and the rest of the U.S. Special Olympics Snowboarding team to get to the World Games this year.

"I felt like I had more confidence in my life about my disability and who I was."

"Before I was at the World Games, I was very quiet and shy and didn’t like showing people how good I was at snowboarding," Shilts wrote on the campaign page. Winning gold boosted her confidence more than ever before — and proved to her that hard work can pay off.

"I felt like I had more confidence in my life about my disability and who I was," she added. "I came back more social and wanted to actually talk to people about myself and about my love for snowboarding."

Shilts’ story helps illustrate why Special Olympics International calls itself a global movement, "fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance." For the organization, sports are a jumping off point toward advocating for people with intellectual disabilities in health, education and employment.

The Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, when the first games took place at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. It grew out of a summer camp she started for young people after she learned many children with intellectual disabilities didn’t have spaces to play.

Many people credit Kennedy Shriver with laying the foundation for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act — two important pieces of legislation that advanced the rights of people with disabilities.

"You are the stars and the world is watching you," she told athletes in her famous opening speech at the 1987 World Summer Games.

"The right to play on any playing field, you have earned it," she said. "The right to study in any school, you have earned it. The right to hold a job, you have earned it. The right to be anyone’s neighbor, you have earned it."

You can find all of the 2017 Special Olympics GoFundMe campaigns here.

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