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woman skiing down a hill
Alice Willans

Youth participation
Friday 03 September 2021

My Special Olympics ski racing journey so far

Special Olympics was founded in 1968 in America by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and became a global movement. Eunice is best known as being a pioneer in the worldwide struggle for the rights and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities. This was ignited by her sister who had an intellectual disability and didn’t have the same sporting opportunities as Eunice growing up.  

In 1962 Camp Shriver was formed to give children the same experiences as children without special needs. Following this, the Special Olympics was born, the first being held in Chicago, Illinois in July 1968. 


large group of people at a special Olympics skiing event


My week competing at the Special Olympics 

In February 2020, I travelled to Crans Montana, Switzerland, with 90 other members of the Special Olympics Great Britain (SOGB), where the National Alpine Skiing Competition took place.   

This was the first time I represented Surrey Special Olympics race team and I achieved a gold medal in Super Giant Slalom and silver in both the Giant Slalom and Slalom races, in the first division of the intermediate female category.  

Moving forward my next goal is to move into the advanced category. I really enjoyed going as fast as possible but staying in control; I was saying red, blue, red, blue which was my groups training technique. 

As well as lots of hard training, I enjoyed the social side of the week, having conversations with other athletes. I met one of my now good friends, who was an honorary member of our team, we really clicked.   


standing on a podium at special Olympics skiing event


How I got into skiing 

When I was younger, I went on three skiing holidays with my dad and sister which I really enjoyed. I found ski school challenging being autistic and managing my type one diabetes was made harder by the cold weather.  

In September 2018, I wanted to get back into skiing so joined my local ski club, Aldershot Skiing for the Disabled (ASD). I started on the nursery slope, which I picked up naturally, gradually progressing to the main slope and then the Slalom course. I then joined the Special Olympics Surrey Race team, which was very exciting as it was my chance to become an athlete. 

I competed at Aldershot, Brentwood, and Birmingham before the GB Nationals. Birmingham was a tough competition; I came fifth in both races. It was a reality check, competing for the first time against my rivals. I was determined to improve from this, so I trained hard with two of my teammates.  

I’m at my happiest when I am doing physical activities because it makes me feel free. When I won a gold medal it felt even more exhilarating! 


standing on a podium at special Olympics event


What the Special Olympics means to me 

Special Olympics is more than just competing in sports, it brings a whole community together, gives everyone opportunities and raises awareness of learning disabilities and other co-occurring conditions such as autism. It makes me feel I am part of something again, which is important to me. When I left my specialist school at 16, I felt very isolated. Being in Special Olympics has given me the ability to make new friends and teammates, by taking part in sport in a supported environment. I believe this is invaluable to me and many others with learning difficulties.  

I am passionate about raising awareness of Special Olympics and autism too, so more people like me can join and get the same benefit out of it that I have.  


woman holding a medal at the special Olympics


About the author  

Alice Willans is 22 years old and was diagnosed with global developmental delay when she was three years old and autism spectrum disorder when she was seven years old. When Alice was 11, she was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder.  

From September she will be studying Level 3 Horticulture at college. She is a big fan of Lego and enjoys building and displaying creator expert, Lego architecture, Lego ideas sets and Lego history sets. Alice is proud to be autistic!