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In Our Blog: Hanna Atkinson, Change Maker

Get to know Athlete Leader, Hanna Atkinson

Special Olympics Colorado athlete, Hanna Atkinson, is an incredible young woman who has already accomplished so much in just 25 years.

Thirteen years ago, Hanna was introduced to Special Olympics Colorado. She has since competed in skiing, cycling, basketball and swimming. She loves skiing and cycling in particular because those are the sports she can do with her family, and especially because her father is her coach.

Special Olympics Colorado now means everything to Hanna and her fellow athletes have become her second family. “Special Olympics helped me gain skills and become the person I am today,” said Hanna.

About a year and a half ago, Hanna was chosen to apply to become a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger (SSIGM). When she found out that she received this opportunity, Hanna said she was speechless. “I was blessed and honored to get this responsibility,” said Hanna. “I never thought that a girl like me with an intellectual disability could work as an SSIGM and a role model.”

As an SSIGM, Hanna, along with 9 other athletes across the globe, serves as a spokesperson for Special Olympics International. She is given many different responsibilities, including public speaking, writing monthly blogs, and overall spreading the message of inclusion. Hanna was also an ambassador at World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019 and will have the opportunity to go to Russia for World Winter Games in 2022.

Hanna’s list of achievements with Special Olympics is long. She has advocated for Special Olympics during Capitol Hill Day in Washington D.C., represented Special Olympics at the Laureus Sport for Good Conference in Paris, France, reported at the X Games in Aspen, and was selected as a national representative for the Special Olympics Finish Line campaign.

Outside of Special Olympics, Hanna has earned a Heartland Broadcast Emmy Award for a segment called “More Alike Than Different,” completed multiple Trek100 charity bike rides with her family (due to COVID-19 restrictions this year, Hanna and her family did their own 67 mile ride in August!), and the list goes on.

About a month ago, Hanna launched her website, Wholeheartedly Hanna, which is dedicated to her brother who passed away in 2015. Her mission is to inspire joy, acceptance and empowerment to anyone and everyone.

Hanna wants to focus on three main things through her business: public speaking, cooking, and fitness. Currently, her main focus is public speaking, with cooking and fitness sections becoming available in the future.

Through speaking engagements, Hanna wants to spread the message of living life to the fullest. Public speaking inspires Hanna to do more, be more successful and to grow. “It also helps me to stay active because it allows me to travel for my speaking engagements,” explained Hanna. “One of my favorite things to do is to travel for speaking engagements.”

On Wholeheartedly Hanna, you’ll also find information about Hanna’s work with Special Olympics, her SSIGM monthly blog posts, and all of the organizations she supports. Additionally, you can learn more about Hanna’s involvement in with Channel Kindness.

Recently, Hanna had the chance to publish three stories in Lady Gaga’s new book, Channel Kindness. The opportunity arose when Hanna was invited to a training in 2018 to be a reporter for Channel Kindness, a digital platform created by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. She and fellow Special Olympics Colorado athlete, Connor Long, were the first reporters with intellectual disabilities to be selected to write for Channel Kindness.

Through the training, Hanna learned how to write a story and the different stories she could write. There was also a lot of discussion and education about how each story should have a positive impact on the readers. Through Channel Kindness, Hanna was able to highlight the Special Olympics community on a larger scale.

What started out as submitting stories for the online publication turned into becoming a co-author of the Channel Kindness book, which was published in September. Last year, Hanna was contacted by Channel Kindness and told that, if she was interested, her stories would be re-edited and added in to a book. Of course Hanna said yes!

Although Channel Kindness was created by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, Hanna had never actually met Lady Gaga. That is, until September 22.

Once the book was published, Hanna and a few of the other Channel Kindness co-authors were interviewed by Lady Gaga, herself, to talk about their stories. “I was star-crazed by it all,” said Hanna. “It was unbelievable and unimaginable that I could ever talk to a person like her. She was so kind and she was a role model in my view.”

One opportunity led to another, and Hanna’s involvement with Channel Kindness landed her on Today with Hoda and Jenna. Hanna explained that she could not have been more grateful to be seen on the Today Show and talk about what she cares about. “It was really fascinating and I was in awe,” said Hanna. “I couldn’t imagine a more perfect thing that happened and it happened to me!”

Hanna is always striving to make the world a better place. “All of us want to be included and our voices should be heard,” she said, who explained the importance of accepting and listening to each other. Hanna says that when you include everyone, it makes them feel valued an important.

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