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Special Olympian gets national recognition
Katy Wilson, a local student who serves as an ambassador for the Special Olympics, traveled recently to California to be given a national award for her efforts. - photo by Tom Reed

Katy Wilson is many things — daughter, sister, friend and advocate to name a few. One thing she is not is a “retard.”

“I don’t like it when people call me ‘retard’ or retarded. It really hurts my feelings,” said Wilson, a 28-year-old Gainesville resident. “I have Down syndrome, but I am a nice person just like other people.”

As a global messenger for the Special Olympics, Wilson has dedicated her life to showing others through her words and by example that people with physical and intellectual disabilities are the same as everyone else.

Her efforts were recently acknowledged by the National Down Syndrome Congress, a nonprofit organization that has presented her with the Christian Pueschel Memorial Citizen Award. According to the organization, the award is given to an individual for “enhancing positive public awareness of Down syndrome through outstanding personal achievements” during the group’s annual conference.

“I am so happy about my award. I feel honored that the NDSC selected me,” said Wilson. “It was fun to go to the convention in Sacramento and to meet everyone at the self-advocate workshops.”

When she isn’t busy earning medals with the Special Olympics, Wilson works at a local restaurant and speaks with various community groups about eliminating the word “retard.”

The NDSC’s Web site outlines that the organization’s purpose is to “create a national climate in which all people will recognize and embrace the value and dignity of people with Down Syndrome.”

Wilson’s family has been involved in with the organization for the past several decades.

“After Katy was born with Down Syndrome in 1980, we turned to the NDSC for information, receiving newsletters and the latest articles and research as well as inspiring stories about other families like ours. We soon realized that the more we knew, the more we could help Katy and others,” said her mother, Jeanne Wilson.

“We began sharing our pictures and stories about inclusion in the community and in school and about Special Olympics with the hope of helping other families. It was so wonderful to see so many new parents of young babies with DS attending the convention. Years ago, people with Down Syndrome were often unseen and unwanted. We sincerely offered Katy’s story to families everywhere as a chance for hope and opportunity in the future.”

Katy was nominated for the award by her older sister, Melinda Wilson-Klinect.

“Katy wants others to see that young people with Down Syndrome are not ‘retards.’ She wants society to recognize her value and worth as an individual,” said Wilson-Klinect. “Katy is a world class gymnast, an effective speaker, a successful worker and a beloved member of our family. Anyone who meets Katy or hears her speak will see Katy’s desire to eliminate stereotypes.”