Brandon resident Mary Frances Smith has been an active and dedicated member of Special Olympics Florida since she was 9 years old. Now, 24 years later, she continues to serve the organization and has won the Florida Special Olympics Athlete of the Year award for her efforts.
“The way she approaches competition, play and interaction with other athletes [has impressed me most]. She encourages everyone to do their best, which is basically what Special Olympics stands for,” said her mother Audrey Smith.
Smith, who has Down syndrome, joined the Special Olympics and began participating in track and field. Smith also played tennis, bowling and swimming with the Special Olympics and played soccer with the TOPS Soccer League. Now, Smith is on the University of Tampa unified flag football team. She is also trained and certified in the Athletic Leadership Program and is a Health Messenger.
“Mary Frances is a motivator and a great example to others [intellectually disabled] individuals about the possibilities that one can accomplish. Special Olympics gave Mary Frances the opportunities to excel and the confidence to accomplish so much. She is an inspiration to everyone she meets,” Judith Moore said on her Athlete of the Year nomination form.
Outside of her involvement with Special Olympics, Smith is active in her community, serving in TRIDENT and the Catholic Church of the Nativity’s PB&J ministry. One of Smith’s defining qualities is his leadership skills, encouraging his TRIDENT classmates to join the PB&J ministry and supporting his teammates on the Special Olympics team.
Smith is learning American Sign Language to communicate with her non-verbal teammates so they feel included and supported in their own accomplishments through Special Olympics. She made an effort to include all of her teammates and colleagues and also support them in their accomplishments.
“You’ve given me a place where I feel included and respected and I can’t tell you how important that is to me and all of my fellow athletes,” Smith said at the awards gala. Orlando on October 22.
For more information on Special Olympics Florida, visit their website at www.specialolympicsflorida.org.