ESPN’s ‘Special’ partnership

(L-R) Rosa Gatti, ESPN; Mandy Murphy, Special Olympics; Kevin Martinez, ESPN; Willie Geanuracos, SO athlete; Brian Drexler, SO Global Messenger; Beau Doherty, SO Connecticut; Lisa Kovlakas, ESPN; Marc Horine, ESPN

Ask someone to name Olympic gold medalists, and the names Michael Phelps, Jesse Owens and Apolo Anton Ohno typically come to mind.

But would the name Brian Drexler sound familiar, or the thousands of others who participate in Special Olympic Games and programs?

Thanks to a partnership with Team ESPN, Drexler and his fellow Special Olympics competitors from around the world are getting more and more of the attention they deserve.

In 2009, Drexler, a Connecticut resident, received a gold medal for his win in the 100-meter snowshoe run at the Special Olympics World Winter games in Boise, Idaho.

For Drexler, getting selected to participate in the World Games was a “dream come true,” and a long-time coming since participating in his first track and field event in May 1986.

“It was a great experience, finally getting selected on something I’ve waited for literally my whole life,” he added.

On June 15, Drexler and other members of Special Olympics, Unified Sports and TEAM ESPN shared their stories at a luncheon hosted by Ed Pannoni, president of ENABLED, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) focused on raising awareness of those affected by disabilities. Pannoni hopes that “ESPN will set an example for other companies through its diversity and inclusion efforts to change attitudes about people with disabilities and remove the negative images and labels most commonly associated with them.”

According to Rosa Gatti, Senior Vice President of Corporate Outreach, ESPN plans to expand its partnership with Special Olympics to other ESPN offices around the world, including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.

With ESPN, ENABLED and Special Olympics focusing on what these athletes are able to accomplish, Olympic gold is never too far out of reach for Drexler and so many others.

Watch the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece, opening (Saturday, June 25, 1- 4 p.m. ET) and closing ceremonies (Monday, July 4, 1 – 4 p.m. ET) on ESPN3. For more information on the Special Olympics World Summer Games, visit www.athens2011.org.

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