High school students from across the state are leading the Unified movement in their schools and community. But inclusion doesn’t stop after high school, and many of our incredible student leaders continue their work in college. The Special Olympics Minnesota Student Athlete Ambassador program provides flexibility that allows college athletes to continue their Unified journeys in college. These students go above and beyond to promote inclusion on their campus and community, using their platforms to make their schools more inclusive.

Meet three of the 2022-23 Student Athlete Ambassadors: Danny Striggow from the University of Minnesota football team, Mara Braun from the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team and Jaran Roste from the Bethel University football team.

Danny Striggow

Danny, a graduate of Orono High School and incoming senior at the University of Minnesota, remembers watching his three older siblings participate in Unified programming when they were in high school and always knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. In middle school, Danny was given the chance when his siblings were looking for one more Unified partner for a Unified track and field event. After that day, Danny was hooked. “Special Olympics started as something I didn’t know a lot about, but I am so glad I was able to get involved at a young age,” says Danny.  

As he started high school, he became more involved in Unified sports. “It was a blast,” Danny says. “It gave us the chance to do things we wouldn’t do outside of Unified.” For example, Danny traded his football cleats for dancing shoes and participated on a Unified dance team. During his last two years of high school, Danny was on the Student Board of Directors, serving as Vice President his senior year.

“Regardless of how the day has gone, if it was a hard day or great day, it’s always a great day when you’re at a Special Olympics Minnesota event,” Danny says. “I’ve never shown up to an event and left with a frown on my face.”

When Danny started at the University of Minnesota, he knew a lot of his time would be taken up with athletics and academics. He didn’t want to lose his connection to Unified, but his football schedule conflicted with the University of Minnesota Unified Club meetings. For Danny, becoming a Student Athlete Ambassador meant he could stay involved in the Unified movement while balancing his football and class schedule.

“The Ambassador program encompasses a lot of things,” Danny says. “It can be as simple as posting something on social media about what inclusion means to you to speaking at events. It’s allowed me to grow as a person and strengthen my relationship with Special Olympics Minnesota.”

Danny says the Ambassador program has had “a very big impact” on him and his athletic career. “When we step on the field, we are always supposed to have a ‘why’,” Danny says. “I’m playing for my friends, my family, my teammates and my coach, but I’m also playing for Special Olympics Minnesota. I think it’s really changed who I am as a person but also how I am as a football player.”

Mara Braun

For Mara, an incoming sophomore on the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team and graduate of Wayzata High School, Special Olympics Minnesota is a family matter. “I have an uncle with a disability and growing up with him really made an impact on me.”

In high school, Mara became involved with the Wayzata High School Unified Club and the Special Olympics Minnesota Student Board of Directors. She loved hanging out with members of the Unified Club on the weekends and participating in activities such as cookie decorating and pumpkin carving.

Now, as a Student Athlete Ambassador, Mara enjoys promoting inclusion on social media and using her platform to spread inclusion at the University of Minnesota. “It’s been great to promote inclusion and talk about what Special Olympics Minnesota is all about,” Mara says. “It’s about breaking down barriers and spreading inclusion.”

Even though Mara just finished her first year at the University of Minnesota, she is already working to get the community involved in Unified. “I’m hoping to get my teammates and coaches involved in the future,” Mara says.

While walking around campus, Mara has had other students come up and ask her about her role as a Student Athlete Ambassador. “I get to share my experiences and tell people how to be a part of Special Olympics Minnesota,” she says. “I want to help Special Olympics Minnesota continue to grow.”

In fact, Mara’s favorite part about being a Student Athlete Ambassador is telling others how to join and expand the movement.  “I want to do things that mean a lot to me, but also mean a lot to the community,” Mara says. “Partnering with Special Olympics Minnesota has allowed me to do that.”

While basketball takes up a large portion of her schedule, Mara is passionate about being a well-rounded student. “As an athlete, you want to impact the community, and Special Olympics Minnesota is the best way to do that.”

“Being a Student Athlete Ambassador has made me a better person,” Mara says, “I want to provide an environment where everyone feels like they belong and matter, and where we all have the same opportunities. I’ve found such a passion for working with individuals with disabilities and it’s changed my life.”

Jaran Roste

Jaran, a member of the Bethel University football team, grew up attending Special Olympics Minnesota events. “I used to announce swimming meets with my dad when I was six years old,” Jaran remembers. “I learned the importance of inclusion at a young age.”

Now, Jaran is completing his master’s degree at Bethel University in K-12 education with a concentration in special education and works with Bethel BUILD, a program that supports students with intellectual disabilities.

“I originally came to college planning to major in finance, business and political science,” Jaran said. “But I found a love for working with students with disabilities early on and Special Olympics Minnesota has been a great avenue to grow and learn.”

As a Student Athlete Ambassador, Jaran has been able get involved with Special Olympics Minnesota in new ways. “I had the opportunity to lead opening ceremonies for Winter Games at Wild Mountain and that was a blast. The athletes’ competitiveness was incredible, and it was phenomenal to be there.”

The Special Olympics Minnesota mission has spread throughout Bethel University’s campus, thanks to Jaran’s hard work. Jaran recalls other Bethel University students coming up to him on campus to ask about Special Olympics Minnesota and what inclusion means to him.

“The mission really echoes on this campus,” Jaran says. “Inclusion has a butterfly effect. When I share about Special Olympics Minnesota and it reaches just one person, they begin to support inclusion in their communities as well.”

Jaran’s favorite part about being a Student Athlete Ambassador is being at events. “When I’m at an event, the athletes inspire me to be not only a better athlete but a better person,” Jaran says. He loves being able to talk to the athletes and cheer them on.

“I try my best to live out inclusion every day,” Jaran says. “Special Olympics Minnesota really did change my life. Thank you to Special Olympics Minnesota for allowing me to grow in who I am as a person and a leader in my community.”

To Jaran, inclusion is “treating everyone as a person. It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not, we all belong. At the end of the day, we all need to support each other. There’s always a place for inclusion in this world.”

Danny, Mara and Jaran are champions of inclusion. They are spreading the Special Olympics Minnesota mission on their campus and beyond. We are so thankful to have these representatives of inclusion!