– Special Olympics Leader Shares Vision for Orlando 2022 Games –
It’s difficult to stay focused on the future when the present is so unsettling. An international pandemic will do that to your psyche. But here’s a great pick-me-up for the future, Orlando. We will be the host city for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
The event is set to be the biggest games in history, with more than 5,500 athletes and coaches, 21,000 volunteer shifts and 125,000 spectators descending on nine competition venues. There will be six new sports, including triathlon and surfing, and ESPN has signed on as the global broadcast partner. In recent years, the opening ceremonies have been broadcast on ABC.
An A-list roster of celebrity ambassadors will be promoting the games and cheering on the athletes. They include Lin Manuel-Miranda, Tiffany Haddish, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres, Grant Hill and Chris Evert.
It’s significant that the games will be held in Orlando, the No. 1 travel destination in the United States. They will take place June 5-12, with ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World serving as the hub of activity.
“We continue to push boundaries and raise the bar,” said Joe Dzaluk, 2022 Special Olympics USA Games president and CEO. “There is no doubt about it, this is going to be big!”
This is his baby. Of course, there are many others who have devoted time, energy and resources to make this event happen and add that spice of Orlando magic and hospitality. But Dzaluk is leading the pack. Previously, he had spent more than three decades as a senior executive for IBM, supervising the activities of thousands of employees while delivering a full range of strategic outsourcing services.
He gets to step up his game with this endeavor.
“For over a decade, I have been volunteering for Special Olympics,” he said. “Two years ago, Special Olympics Florida made the decision to bid on hosting the 2022 Games. I worked on the bid committee, and after we won the bid, I jumped at the chance to lead our efforts on the planning and execution of the largest humanitarian effort in Florida’s history.
“I love Special Olympics because it is about transforming lives, including my own. It’s about a spirit of giving and teamwork. It’s about making our community and country a more welcoming and accepting place for people of all abilities.”
Dzaluk is inspired by athletes like Chris Nikic, a Special Olympics Florida athlete who recently made history by becoming the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon. It was quite the challenge. He had to complete a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race and a 26.2-mile run within 17 hours. Nikic, a 21-year-old from Maitland, crossed the finish line at Panama City Beach in just a hair over 16 hours and 46 minutes.
“You worry if he’s going to be able to take care of himself, to live life without you here,” his father, Nik Nikic, told USA TODAY.
“The feeling of him completing an Ironman, it means more than the finish line. It’s everything along the way with the training, the community he has supporting him, that tells me he’s always going to be OK when I’m gone. He’s showinghe can do anything he sets hismind to.”
Amen, Dzaluk said.“People with intellectual disabilities are always underestimated,” Dzaluk said. “People assume what they can and can’t achieve. It’s people like Chris and accomplishments like his that shatter these notions and allow people to see intellectual disability differently. This is a huge win not just for the Special Olympics community but for the whole world. It is a huge leap forward for inclusivity.”
As Dzaluk and his team fast-forward to 2022, the focus is on every detail, including the logo.
“One of our core values is to be an ‘athlete-driven’ games,” he said. “We have learned that when we lose sight of this, everything suffers.” That was the case with the logo development. We partnered with a world-class creative agency and they developed a nice logo, but there was something missing. We quickly realized we were missing the input of our athletes.
“After all, this logo represents them — their life experiences, triumphs and challenges. We scrapped the first logo and brought together a group of talented athletes who also had artistic skills, and together we created the logo that you see today. A logo that represents our athletes’ vision for the USA Games and embodies inclusion.”
Orlando can’t wait. Not only for the projected local economic impact of as much as $61 million but for the inspiring stories these athletes have to share. There could be no greater pick-me-up as America turns the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nothing makes me happier than knowing we are giving our athletes the time of their lives,” Dzaluk said. “I’m also excited for Greater Orlando and Florida. It’s an unusual time in the world, and our region can bring the country together around the message of inclusion.”
There will be strong support from all partners involved, from presenting partner Jersey Mike’s Subs and host Walt Disney World to local leaders, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, who are both on the board of directors.
“From elected officials to business leaders, the community has rallied around the games and is committed to making them the best in history,” Dzaluk said.
Let the games begin, Orlando!
WANY TO GET INVOLVED?
Contact Amy Wise at
to talk about supporting the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games through sponsorships, fundraising and donations.
to sign up as a volunteer.
JASON SIEGEL is president and CEO of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission. Longtime Orlando sportswriter George Diaz contributed to this article.
Photography by Julie Fletcher
As seen in January | February edition of i4 Business Magazine
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