Behind the powerhouse that is Special Olympics USA, there is its management team. This dedicated group of individuals has joined the delegation in Berlin as experts in medical care, logistics, communication and sport. Unique to the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023, the Special Olympics USA Sport Management Team is comprised of all women. April Stone, Aspen DeField, Carolyn Cronin, Cindy Schopper, Lauren Saulter and Laurie-Jean Hannon fuel that powerhouse. Each is responsible for managing a set of sports throughout the Special Olympics World Games, ensuring that the athletes’ only concern is doing their best.
“I’m taking the load off the coaches in every way, so that they can just coach,” explained April Stone (pictured, left, with Athlete Chelsea). “I help with athletes who are not competing, scheduling training times and places, transportation and meals. We do everything but coach.”
April has attended two Special Olympics World Winter Games as a snowboarding coach and the 2015 ESPN X Games as a coach; however, she is new to the sport management role. Fortunately, she is following the lead of a lineage defined by female leadership.
“Nothing compares to the camaraderie of other women in sports,” said Aspen DeField. “Being surrounded by such a passionate and competent group is very motivating. I followed in the footsteps of an amazing female mentor to get here, and I hope we’re opening doors for the next group of women to reach even higher.”
Aspen has volunteered with Special Olympics in Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Now the Special Olympics coordinator for Denver Parks & Recreation in Colorado, she coordinates programming throughout the year. Like her sport management colleagues, her life outside of work is very much ingrained in Special Olympics. They’re not on the awards stand, their rewards are not tangible, but they are meaningful. If a value could be placed on the impact of their involvement, they’d all win gold. The effort they give is a shared one, collaborating in perfect rhythm with each other.
“This crew is the definition of a team,” said Lauren Saulter. “We come from a variety of backgrounds and parts of the country but are working incredibly well together to provide the coaches and athletes we support the best experience possible. I’m honored to be a part of this strong, hardworking group of people.”
Lauren has worked for Special Olympics for the past 10 years, the most recent five years with Special Olympics Pennsylvania. Currently in the role of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® director, she aims to provide people of all abilities the opportunity to be physically active, a goal each of these women share. They come from across the country, from coaching backgrounds, from careers as athletes themselves, united in Special Olympics.
Like Lauren and Aspen, Carolyn Cronin’s career is founded in Special Olympics. As the director of coach and health services for Special Olympics Illinois, she is invested in the athletic development of all Special Olympics participants, at home and on the world stage. To share that interest with the Special Olympics World Games team in Berlin, is a win for everyone.
“I was excited when I saw that the Sport Management Team was all females,” said Carolyn. “Being a female in sports, I am always excited to see female leadership.”
She’s been to her fair share of national and international competitions on behalf of Special Olympics, but this time, this role, is different.
“It’s similar and it’s different,” explained Carolyn. “In the past, I was mostly just with one sport and this time, we spread the love among the sports.”
Though the hours they work are long, they are comprised of many fulfilling moments, ones that they are lucky enough to share with their team.