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Intern Chronicles: Meet Special Olympics Athlete, ESPN Intern At X Games RJ Nealon

Swimmer, Alabama student says his goal "is to be a reporter/analyst for Special Olympics events," cites SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi as mentor

RJ Nealon, 25, is Maryland native and senior at the University of Alabama. He was a Special Olympics athlete for 15 years. He is an ESPN Summer Intern working at the X Games this week in Minneapolis. (RJ Nealon/ESPN)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Once again this summer, Front Row’s Intern Chronicles series showcases some of ESPN’s summer interns. For more information on ESPN Internships, visit the ESPN Careers site.

As X Games Minneapolis 2019 kicks off today, ESPN expands on its relationship with the Special Olympics by hosting the first-ever Unified BMX Race at X Games. The event – similar to the popular Unified Snowboarding event held at X Games Aspen for the last five years – promotes inclusion by partnering Special Olympics and professional action sports athletes to compete on the same track.

Watch X Games Minneapolis This Weekend on ESPN, ABC, ESPN2

Today through Sunday, Aug. 4, the world’s top action sports stars will take over ESPN, ABC and ESPN2 with more than 18 hours of thrills. Today and Friday, watch primetime coverage of the day’s finals on Big Air, Street, Park, Dirt, Vert and Moto X courses in U.S. Bank Stadium. Over the weekend, coverage switches to ABC. For more, visit ESPN PressRoom.

For ESPN intern RJ Nealon, who is working with the social media team at X Games, this Unified event has a much deeper meaning.

Nealon, a 25-year-old Maryland native and senior at the University of Alabama, was a Special Olympics athlete for 15 years. Born with cerebral palsy, he showcased his abilities in just about every sport the Special Olympics could offer – though most notably in swimming and basketball.

In 2010, he went to the Special Olympics National Games in Nebraska for swimming, where he received three medals (two gold, one silver). In 2016, he also became a Unified Basketball State Champion for Special Olympics Maryland.

“The Special Olympics is about learning to step outside your comfort zone, how to adapt to new opportunities and be the best person you can be,” Nealon said. “Without Special Olympics, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

He continues to advocate for the Special Olympics as a writer and public speaker.

“My goal is to be a reporter/analyst for Special Olympics events,” Nealon said. “For all Special Olympics has done for me, I feel as though that’s my way of giving back. I want to share stories of athletes that may not get a chance to tell them themselves.”

SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi, one of ESPN’s biggest Special Olympics advocates, has become a mentor and role model for Nealon.

Last summer, while interning with the Special Olympics, Nealon conducted his first ever on-camera interview with Negandhi at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.

Nealon said: “Kevin said something that sticks with me today. He said, ‘All I wanted was a chance.’ That stuck with me and I’m so thankful that ESPN is giving me that chance now.”

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