Not many high school athletes participate in seven sports, or attend practice for three different swim teams.
Gina Grant does. She makes it look easy.
Gina, 17 of Pembroke Pines, swims, skis, surfs, paddleboards, bowls, and plays volleyball and basketball. In August, she won Athlete of the Year from Special Olympics Broward County.
She’s one of more than 3,000 athletes who participate in Special Olympics Broward County, which provides year-round sports training and competition to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities—all for free. The organization is celebrating a special milestone this year with its 10th annual Sallarulo’s Race for Champions—a 5K that serves as the organization’s main fundraiser.
The race, which takes place at Nova Southeastern University on Nov. 7, is expected to draw nearly 3,000 people from throughout Broward County. Runners will walk, jog and sprint next to Special Olympics athletes like Grant.
“The energy is incredible. We have some of the best racers in the country participate,” says Paul Sallarulo, who founded the race in 2006 when he decided to run the Disney Half Marathon in honor of Special Olympics for his 50th birthday.
He raised $130,000 on his own, prompting him to wonder how much the organization could raise with a dedicated 5K walk/run. Since then, the race has raised nearly $5 million for the organization.
For Paul Sallarulo, an accomplished businessman and well-respected leader throughout the county and state, Special Olympics Broward holds a special place in his heart.
He first got involved with Special Olympics when he was 16 years old in Lake George, New York. The first athlete he worked with had Down syndrome—an experience that he says prepared him decades later for the birth of his son, Patrick Sallarulo, who was also born with the chromosomal disorder.
Today, Patrick Sallarulo, 23, is part of the Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Program, and runs side by side with his dad in the 5K race. He wears the No. 1, while his dad wears the No. 23.
The money raised each year helps athletes, like Grant and Patrick Sallarulo, participate in as many as 22 different sports, building confidence and making friends along the way.
At press time in early September, Grant, who is autistic and non-verbal, was on her way to compete in this year’s INAS Global Games in Quito, Ecuador—an opportunity that her mother says wouldn’t have been possible without Special Olympics.
“It’s become a way for us to take care of her, to meet people with the same disabilities and to expose her to new people,” says Suzanne Hue, Grant’s mother. “It’s a community and a family. She’ll always have support with Special Olympics.”
Sallarulo’s Race for Champions
Date: Nov. 7
Time: 8 a.m.
Location: Nova Southeastern University, Davie Campus
For more information, visit sallarulosraceforchampions.org.