When it comes to Special Olympics Minnesota, Adam Hjerpe has worn many hats: coach, board member, Head of Delegation, Unified partner, Polar Plunger, volunteer, corporate advocate and, most importantly, father. For nearly two decades, Adam has been unwavering in his commitment to Special Olympics Minnesota and is an outstanding example of what it means to be a champion of inclusion.

Adam’s journey with Special Olympics began with an advertisement in the Savage newspaper about 17 years ago. The ad was created by local police chief Rodney Seurer, an active supporter of Special Olympics. Chief Seurer was looking for volunteers to help build a local Special Olympics team.

Adam and his family answered the call.

“It started with a small, curious group at city hall,” says Adam. “We didn’t know what we were doing but we were determined. Plus, we had a great leader in Chief Seurer.”

What began as a modest local volunteer endeavor flourished into a thriving community. Today, the Savage/Prior Lake Lakers Special Olympics team has more than 90 athletes and offers a variety of sports year-round. Adam has served the team in a variety of roles throughout the years including Head of Delegation, Unified partner and coach—and, of course, dad to Steven.

Steven is the oldest of the Hjerpe’s three boys and has been a Special Olympics Minnesota athlete since his family answered the ad in the newspaper. He is a multi-sport athlete competing in bowling, golf, track and field, swimming, poly hockey and snowshoeing.

Reflecting on his son’s journey, Adam says, “He wouldn’t be the same person he is today if it weren’t for Special Olympics. Especially now that he’s out of school, he has a community for the rest of his life.”

The other Hjerpe boys, Nick and Thomas, are also passionate about sports and inclusion. They have been Unified partners and have contributed to the community through volunteering and coaching. “It’s a family affair for us,” says Adam. “Nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles. We all get involved.”

The Hjerpe family’s involvement isn’t limited to sports. Every winter they are “freezin’ for Steven” at the Prior Lake Polar Plunge. Steven’s Plunge team has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for Special Olympics Minnesota throughout the years!

“Adam advocates for inclusion and supports Special Olympics Minnesota everywhere he goes,” says Bill Fish, Chief Development Officer for the organization. “He seems to have endless energy when it comes to this work.”

In addition to father, coach and Polar Plunger, Adam took on the role of a board member for Special Olympics Minnesota in 2016.

Adam served on the board of directors for six years, guiding the organization through highs and lows, including the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic and winning the bid to host the 2026 USA Games.

“Adam brought an incredible business acumen to our organization,” says Dave Dorn, President and CEO of Special Olympics Minnesota. “I could call Adam with any idea or problem, and he was able to respond with the perspective of not only a talented businessman, but a father and coach as well. His insight was incredibly valuable.”

Adam’s service on the board went hand in hand with his role as a corporate advocate. During his time at UnitedHealth Group (UHG), Adam fostered a strong partnership between the two organizations. From the Polar Plunge to inclusive employment, UHG walks the walk as a corporate partner, and that began with Adam.

“Adam was very respected in his role,” says Dave. “He used his influence to support inclusion in his workplace and, in turn, created an incredibly dedicated partner for Special Olympics Minnesota.”

Although Adam has since left his role at UHG, the organization is still a dedicated partner. At a press conference in 2022, it was announced that the healthcare powerhouse will be the presenting sponsor of the 2026 USA Games. UHG will play a key role in making the Games a success and help leave a lasting impact on inclusive health in Minnesota.

As the state prepares for the USA Games, Adam has transitioned into a new role. He was appointed as the Board Chair for the 2026 Special Olympics USA Games and will help lead the vision and strategy for the event over the next few years. The prestigious event will bring more than 100,000 athletes, coaches and fans to Minnesota. Adam aspires to make the Games an unforgettable experience and aims to cultivate a legacy of inclusion that will resonate long after the last medal has been awarded.

“In my life and in my work, there are three things that I try to do,” says Adam. “Leave things better than I found them. Make a difference each and every day. And build durable and lasting relationships. That’s what I believe we’re doing with the Special Olympics movement in Minnesota.”

What started as a small volunteer role in his local community has evolved into a leadership position on a national stage for Special Olympics. Adam has answered each call for inclusion with curiosity and enthusiasm. His advice for anyone interested in getting involved is simple: Be curious.

“Just be curious and give it a try! You might not know what you’re doing and you might make mistakes along the way,” says Adam. “But we’ll welcome you in. There is a place for everyone in this movement.”