Katie’s challenge: How Special Olympics helped this Ottawa athlete with international competitions – and public speaking

It’s hard to believe there was a time when Ottawa’s Katie Xu was shy and lacked focus.

Today, the 20-year-old Special Olympics Ontario athlete can quickly list off her favourite activities – even when a camera is pointed at her.

“I like to do sports, I like to hang out with my friends, I like to meet new people … and have a good time,” she says.

According to her mother Jennifer, her newfound confidence was built at Special Olympics.

Katie has autism and struggled with school and social activities.

When she was 10-years-old, Jennifer registered Katie in local Special Olympics programs. She signed up for everything from basketball to alpine skiing.

“I thought sports may help her to focus on one thing and also help her make friends,” Jennifer said. “And it’s worked.”

“She’s learned some skills, she knows how to cope with other kids.”

Jennifer admit she had “no idea how far Katie would go.”

A poster of Katie

Katie has excelled as an athlete, particularly in swimming and figure skating. She’s competed at Provincial and National Games in both sports, with figure skating taking her as far as Austria for the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 2017.

“She likes to go to training, she’s so productive,” Jennifer said.

“I like to work together with my skating coach and I like to work hard, do my best,” Katie added.

Jennifer’s noticed improvements in her daughter’s life outside of sport too, like her ability to follow conversations and instructions, as well as speak publicly.

“It gave her a lot of confidence, she’s happy and I’m happy,” Jennifer said.

Since joining Special Olympics, Katie – along with 45,000 athletes with an intellectual disability across the country – has built the confidence to stare down any hurdle and respond, “Challenge accepted.”

To help more children, youth and adults like Katie, make a donation to Special Olympics Canada today.