Sydney Sexton packs a lot in her schedule. On any given day, she could be swimming laps at the YMCA in Woodbury, working at Jerry’s Foods as a cashier, studying for an upcoming medical assistant exam, or connecting with fellow Special Olympics athletes across the country.
According to her mom, Julie, this has always been how Sydney operates. “Early on in her life, Sydney decided she wasn’t going to let her disability hold her back. From day one she’s never been shy to join anything. She said she wants to prove that she can do everything, and she does!” said Julie.
Recently Sydney added yet another event to her calendar as a member of the Special Olympics Summer Games planning committee. “They wanted to bring in a couple athletes to get our perspective on the games, so I’m one of two athletes on the committee,” said Sydney. “I never thought I’d do anything like that. It was a great honor to be a part of it.”
The group consisted of Special Olympics Minnesota staff members from multiple teams within the organization. Everyone was grateful for Sydney’s contributions. “Our committee was elated to have Sydney’s voice involved,” said Derek Schiebel, Senior Sports and Training Manager. “The opportunity to have someone who sees our competitions from an athlete’s perspective only helps the overall experience for everyone.”
Sydney, now 23, has competed for Special Olympics Minnesota since she was 14 years old. “I just love it. Special Olympics makes me happy. I get to see so many of my friends and make new ones. It’s a very positive place for me,” said Sydney.
Throughout the year, Sydney competes with the Woodbury Blazing Stars in poly hockey, softball, bowling and basketball and with the South Region Stars in her favorite sport, swimming. “I don’t know what I’d do without swimming. It makes me so happy,” said Sydney.
She even traveled to the USA Games in Florida in 2022 and won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle and a silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke. “I loved that whole experience,” said Sydney. “Life is short, and I want to experience all I can.”
Julie smiles when she talks about how much Sydney excels at sports and how far she’s come since she was little. “When Sydney was 18 months old we went to try and find out why she wasn’t sitting up on her own,” recalled Julie. “They diagnosed her with low muscle tone and the doctor said she’ll probably never be good at sports. If he could only see her now. Look at her go!”
Justin Munger, one of Sydney’s basketball coaches, shared his experience coaching her before one of her Blazing Stars games. “Sydney is a great athlete to coach. She is always willing to learn and improve her game,” said Munger. “There is also the impact she has on those around her. She is so kind to her teammates and she’s always there to wave and say hi or goodbye. Little things like that can make someone’s day.”
Even though she loves the competition, Julie says Sydney is really there for the community. “It’s about the sports, but not really about the sports,” said Julie. “It’s the community of it. A place where everybody is welcome, regardless of ability.”
Sydney agrees that it’s more about the people than anything else. “I’d feel so alone without sports and Special Olympics Minnesota,” said Sydney. “It’s my happy place.”
This story is presented by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.