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Special Olympics Athlete is a Survivor with a Heart of Gold!

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Sam Blake with fellow Special Olympics Global Messenger Jonathan Sparkss
Sam Blake with fellow Special Olympics Global Messenger Jonathan Sparks (photo courtesy of the Special Olympics)

You would never guess Sam Blake couldn’t speak until he was six years old when you see him now touring as a Special Olympics Global Messenger speaking to hundreds of people at a time. With more than 50 Special Olympics medals under his belt, Sam is an all-around athlete, not to mention a great guy. It is easy to see why he was chosen to be a Global Messenger.

Once Sam did start speaking he struggled with a speech impediment for many years and was, at times, picked on by other kids. Thankfully, he had friends and family who stood by him and up for him. At 6’4, Sam can definitely hold his own now and is always looking out for the underdog.

“There are Special Olympics athletes as young as five and some are more than 88 years old,” said Sam. “My fellow athletes, coaches and staff are like family to me. They have my back and I have theirs. I am no longer picked on and I am part of their family. It feels good.”

According to the Southern California Special Olympics (SOSC) website, Global Messengers are Special Olympics athletes who help spread the message and vision of the movement as well as the benefits they have gained by participating in Special Olympics.

Sam, SOSC Senior Manager Development Amanda Baumann, SONC Chief Operating Officer Ilisa Kessler, and Jonathan
Sam, SOSC Senior Manager Development Amanda Baumann, SONC Chief Operating Officer Ilisa Kessler, and Jonathan (photo courtesy of the Special Olympics)

Sam recently had the honor of visiting the Senate floor in Sacramento as a guest of Senator Ben Hueso to receive the proclamation acknowledging the Special Olympics 50th anniversary. As leaders and message-bearers of the movement, Global Messengers communicate the powerful declarations of hope, acceptance, and courage of Special Olympics athletes around the world. Only athletes can effectively relate the impact that the movement has had on their lives and the lives of their families.

(Click arrow to watch - Senate proclamation for the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary)

Sam was born in College Station, Texas. The home of Texas A&M. He was in the ICU after he was born due to a stroke and was in the hospital for three months. Sam is a survivor. He and his family left Texas when he was a boy. Sam went to middle school and high school in Ithaca, New York. He went on to work at Cornell University as a janitor before moving to San Diego nine years ago. Sam has been a Special Olympics Athlete since 1988, where he has played many sports including soccer, softball, basketball, bocce, skiing, bowling and swimming. Softball being his favorite due to the team environment.

Sam doing what he loves (photo courtesy of the Special Olympics)
Sam doing what he loves (photo courtesy of the Special Olympics)

A client with Toward Maximum Independence (TMI), a nonprofit providing services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Sam also works at the Balboa Naval Hospital as an Environmental Tech with the assistance of his TMI Supported Employment (SE) Job Coach Andy Palasciano. TMI’s SE program provides personalized integration, training and advocacy to clients, as well as helps to develop the capabilities and strengths of all people desiring to work.

“Sam never ceases to amaze me,” said Andy. “His passion and enthusiasm for every project he commits himself to is to be admired.”

Sam happily working at Balboa Naval Hospital
Sam happily working at Balboa Naval Hospital

Sam has also volunteered at the Farmer’s Insurance Open golf tournament for the last five years where he starts at 5:30 am driving player’s staff to their holes and leaves after sunset for five days in a row. He loves it! He also loves volunteering at the San Diego Zoo as an Information Ambassador, which he has been doing for nine years.

Named a Change it Up Champion by San Diego News 8, Sam is known as a big teddy bear with a heart of gold. Watch Sam’s inspiring video HERE. (Note, his fundraiser has past.)

A Global Messenger since October 2018, Sam hopes to reach more people to see the Special Olympics grow and improve the world. He dreams of being at the Special Olympics World Games. We have no doubt he will get there! He wants to keep competing as an athlete until he can’t anymore and then he hopes to help in their office. He also plans to keep working at the hospital and volunteering for as many years as he can.

You are an amazing person, Sam, and an inspiration to everyone you meet. We know you have a wonderful future ahead and can’t wait to see how many more medals you can take home! Congratulations! You make us very proud!


Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) has been transforming the lives of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1981 and the deaf and hard of hearing since 2000. TMI strives to help our clients to realize their hopes and dreams by providing Employment Solutions, Community Living and Family Support Services throughout San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties. To stay connected with us follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Together we can share acceptance and awareness, ultimately contributing to further inclusion.


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