News & Stories

The Last Defender

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“For each of these marks, there is a story.”

Special Olympics Texas athlete Liz Salinas points at the scuffs on her helmet. Without a stick, floorball goalies use only their bodies to stop the ball. The last defender on the court, Salinas relies on her teammates for protection. And when the ball makes it past defense, she is the only safeguard left.

“You’re not supposed to come in the goalie box, it’s a safety zone,” explained Salinas. “We were playing a team from San Antonio and they are very competitive. A player came into my box and kept shooting. I was blocking it in every way… I was using my shoulder, my legs, my hands. I thought to myself, ‘you’re not scoring’.”

The most prominent mark on her helmet is a souvenir of that game. Helmet aside, Salinas takes pride in the symbolic scuffs that have made her the person, the athlete, she is today. For the majority of her life, Salinas has suffered from severe anxiety and depression. Weighed down by negative thoughts and self-doubt, Salinas needed a defense of her own. So, she found Special Olympics.

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“I spread awareness about Special Olympics to anyone,” said Salinas. “I was in a very dark place and it helped me so much… It’s very hard, because you are trying to do something positive and the negative comes in.”

Salinas was born and raised in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where she still lives today. Her town, Elsa, Texas, is located 16 miles from the Mexican border. Just on the other side, many of Salinas’s family members live in Monterrey, Mexico. Elsa is a small town, which made finding social activities a challenge. She was first introduced to Special Olympics through her day program, My Morning Star Adult Day Care. In the three years since, her days have been filled with basketball, bocce, floorball and tennis practices.

“I was at home all the time, just doing nothing,” said Salinas. “And Special Olympics has helped me a lot, it has introduced me to all different sports.”

Never having played sports before Special Olympics, Salinas quickly discovered her inherent, competitive nature. Sports came naturally to her. And when her coaches brought floorball to her day program, Salinas was the natural choice to play goalie.

“At first, I didn’t want to go,” remembered Salinas. “Now you can’t get me off the court… When I came to Utah, I realized that I have so much to learn about being goalie.”

The Special Olympics USA Team Trials were held in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 18-21. There, Salinas met her new floorball teammates, fellow nominees selected to represent Special Olympics USA in the Special Olympics World Winter Games Torino 2025. During their first practices and scrimmages together, they learned to play, to defend, as a team. In the coming months, Salinas will continue to train as their goalie, collecting scuff after scuff. Years from now, she will reflect on those marks, which will represent her commitment to defending Special Olympics USA.