Special Olympics Open Water Swimming



Swimming has always been an integral part of the Special Olympics experience.  When Eunice Kennedy Shriver began running camps for people with intellectual disabilities in the backyard of her Maryland home, she was found, more often than not, in the pool. Special Olympics was her passion and as an avid swimmer it was through swimming that Mrs. Shriver loved to teach athletes to push themselves, learn new skills, build confidence, and experience the joy of sports.

Athletes with intellectual disabilities face profound challenges of inclusion, acceptance and recognition on the playing field, at community pools, and in life.  Through Special Olympics these athletes find opportunities to exceed expectations that help shatter long held stigma and stereotypes about their capabilities.  By their example and their actions, the athletes themselves have overcome any uncertainty about their drive, competitive nature, and ability to push themselves beyond what others think them capable.


Open Water Swimming is one of the fastest growing and most challenging sports on earth.  In keeping with the spirit and mission of Special Olympics, the Aquatics Program has expanded to include Open Water Swimming.  Open water swimming is not only an opportunity for athletes to participate in a lifelong recreational activity but provides a unique challenge of their physical and psychological abilities.

In 2011, Open Water Swimming made its Special Olympics debut at the World Games in Athens, Greece.  In the years following that race, Special Olympics athletes have shown the world not only that they want to, but that they can successfully participate in this demanding endurance sport. 

The 2019 World Games will be held in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Once again, Special Olympics athletes from around the world will come together to participate in a 1,600 meter open water swim race. The athletes' opportunities and achievements are made possible by a community of dedicated families, coaches, programs, and a society that embraces their dreams and provides quality training and competition experiences.