Community leader and mental health advocate

Kayte Barton first heard about Special Olympics Minnesota at a community resource fair when she was just 21 years old. As a child and young adult, she was very introverted and kept to herself.

“I was extremely, extremely shy. I never really felt like I fit in. I didn’t have any sort of leadership skills.”

Special Olympics Minnesota helped Kayte break out of her shell.

Today, after being involved with Special Olympics Minnesota for nearly 25 years, (over half her entire life!) Kayte has seen herself transform in so many ways. Over the years she has made countless friendships, grown her leadership skills, and taken charge of her mental and physical health.

“I never could have imagined where Special Olympics could have taken me, literally and figuratively. I’ve become a leader, and I’ve been given opportunities to travel all over the place to compete and tell my story.”

Kayte has had so many amazing accomplishments during her time with Special Olympics Minnesota. She started the Woodbury Blazing Stars delegation from the ground up by raising money and recruiting team members. And she worked with Special Olympics Minnesota staff and local law enforcement to bring the Polar Plunge to her hometown of Woodbury. In 2022, the event will celebrate its 8th anniversary! Kayte is proof that anyone—regardless of ability or disability—can be a leader in their community.

Kayte Barton with Special Olympics snowboarder Daina Shilts
Art by Kayte Barton

“Inclusion means being included within the community. Being seen as a person, not just a person with an intellectual disability. True inclusion is not having people in the community shy away from us just because we have disabilities, but being comfortable with us because we’re just people.”

The accomplishment she is most proud of is her continued work to improve the mental health of fellow Special Olympics athletes.

In 2009, Kayte was struggling with her mental health. In the midst of her struggles, she felt that she didn’t have anywhere or anyone to turn to for inclusive mental health care. So, she turned to a place where she felt comfortable and supported: Special Olympics. There she found a community of people she can talk to, programs that promote healthy living and a place to express herself and help others with their mental health.

Kayte now sits on a global committee to help develop mental and emotional health programming for Special Olympics athletes across the world. She is a Special Olympics Minnesota Health Ambassador and has played a big part in developing the Special Olympics Strong Minds program, which was piloted at the 2017 World Games in Austria.

In 2020, Kayte helped tackle the mental health crisis that came along with the COVID-19 pandemic. She partnered with Special Olympics International to create tips and recommendations to help people with intellectual disabilities improve their mental health.

Kayte’s mental health tips:

  • Be aware of your mental health. Have regular check-ins with yourself to see how you’re feeling.
  • If you have any anxiety or aren’t feeling yourself, talk to someone. Find a support network with people you trust.
  • Learn a few go-to relaxation techniques and keep them in your back pocket for times that you feel overwhelmed.

If there was one thing Kayte could tell everyone in the world about Special Olympics, it would be that it goes far beyond sports.

“Special Olympics is more than just sports. It’s making leaders in communities. It’s helping athletes become healthier, physically and mentally. I’ve seen these positive results first-hand.”

While Kayte has scaled back her participation in traditional sports, Special Olympics health and leadership programs keep her connected to the mission, her friends and her community.

“I love that Special Olympics lets me be a leader in my community. I just want people to see the need for inclusion and how supportive Special Olympics Minnesota can be.”

Kayte was recently featured in an amazing video put together by her hometown, the City of Woodbury. Check it out!