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Athletes with intellectual disabilities shine at Camp Shriver

Special Olympics Florida teamed up with Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School to bring the camp to Sarasota.

An athlete prepares to shoot a basketball, as a Cardinal Mooney student watches.
An athlete prepares to shoot a basketball, as a Cardinal Mooney student watches.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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After serving as a nanny to a child with Down syndrome, McKenna Garner felt the impact of the experience.

“That really piqued my interest into, what are the opportunities that these kids have?” Garner said. 

As the theology teacher and head cheerleading coach at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, she began searching for a way the school could help facilitate those opportunities.

It ended with her speaking with Special Olympics Florida to do something that hadn’t been done before: bring Camp Shriver to the Sarasota area. 

Modeled after a camp originally held at the home of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Camp Shriver is a sports camp focused on learning through interaction, that places those with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. 

Lasting from June 10-14, the experience was a benefit to campers and instructors. 

An athlete prepares to make a cartwheel.
Photo by Ian Swaby

“I love it so much,” said volunteer Darling Bergstrom, a 2024 graduate of Cardinal Mooney High School. “I think it's really interesting because you get to see what these kids go through every day, and figure out ways to help them express what they want to do. … Watching the kids, how excited they get, and how their faces light up has been so much fun.”

Garner worked with Jessica Ott, regional director for the west coast region at Special Olympics Florida, to get the camp off the ground. After starting in February, they were able to pull the whole project together in time for summer. 

“We both instantly, off the bat, connected," Garner said. "We’re equally passionate and excited to get this onto our campus.” 

Jessica Ott, regional director of Special Olympics Florida, brings the group together to touch hands.
Photo by Ian Swaby

The camp’s itinerary gave athletes opportunities including learning from about 100 football players how to spike a ball and run a touchdown; from the girl’s lacrosse team about how to use sticks and make passes; from the baseball team how to throw, catch and bat and from cheerleaders how to spread team spirit by cheering.

They even enjoyed some dance parties along the way.

An athlete prepares to shoot a basketball.
Photo by Ian Swaby

The camp was funded by Suncoast Charities for Children and Sarasota Tarpon Tournament, who covered the cost of food and supplies so campers could attend for free. 

“I've been completely blown away by the Cardinal Mooney students and their engagement with our athletes," Ott said. "Our Special Olympic athletes don't have the opportunities that every other camp provides, and our athletes really shined today and throughout the entire week, and showed what they really can do. It's all about being inclusive.”

A Cardinal Mooney student receives a hug from a Special Olympics athlete.
Photo by Ian Swaby



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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