From coach to future clinician: SLHS graduate student travels to Berlin for Special Olympics World Games

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Athletes, Unified partners, coaches, and fans from the UF Special Olympics College Club stand #unbeatable together for the 2023 Special Olympics World Games

By Katarina Fiorentino Klatzkow

A chorus of cheers sounded from thousands of athletes, volunteers and spectators as the Special Olympics Flame of Hope was lit in Olympic Stadium, Berlin. This electric moment marked the official opening of the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023.

Sam Meador
Samantha Meador, an aspiring speech-language pathologist and a master’s student in communication sciences and disorders.

Among the celebrants was Sam Meador, B.H.S., a master’s student in communication sciences and disorders in the College of Public Health and Health Professions department of speech, language, and hearing sciences and an assistant coach for the Alachua All-Stars, Special Olympics USA’s delegation in 5v5 Unified basketball.

For Meador, supporting her teammates in Berlin was a dream come true.

When she arrived at the University of Florida during her freshman year in 2019, Meador was longing for a piece of home. She grew up attending Special Olympics events and tournaments with her older sister, Sabrina, and was excited to continue being involved in advocacy and inclusive sports for individuals with intellectual disabilities during her time in college. After volunteering with UF Special Olympics College Club as an underclassman, Meador served a two-year tenure as president on the executive board, leading programming efforts that were instrumental in growing the club’s presence and outreach on campus.

Meador was invited to serve as a coach with UF Special Olympics College Club, taking up an assistant coaching post with the Unified flag football team, who went on to win a bronze medal at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando. She continued to serve as a coach with 5v5 Unified basketball.

“I’m passionate about connecting people and empowering the voices of others,” Meador said. “Special Olympics is so much more than a sports organization. Our team is a family.”

The Alachua All-Stars, a close-knit team of athletes, Unified partners and coaches, worked tirelessly to prepare for the World Games. After a special send-off in New York City, the team traveled to Germany where they were greeted with a welcome reception in Bremen and Bremerhaven, their German host cities. After a few days of sightseeing, festivities and cultural immersion experiences, the team headed to Berlin. They were among 190 countries who sent delegations to compete in the games.


“The games were very, very intense and fast-paced,” said Meador. “Our team showed a lot of grace when a new challenge came up. Everyone stuck together.”

The team competed in multiple rounds of divisional games, including against teams from Luxembourg, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and more. Their hard work, tenacity and teamwork paid off; the Alachua All-Stars achieved a fourth-place win for the United States!SO

Meador credits her love for communication and her studies as an aspiring speech-language pathologist with helping her on the sidelines as a coach.

“Being in the sports setting was an affirmation of why I want to be a speech-language pathologist,” Meador said. “I had gone up to the Iraq team during the Games, and none of the team spoke English, and I didn’t speak Arabic. So, I typed on Google Translate, ‘good luck.’ I showed it to the head coach, and he got so excited that someone had tried to communicate with him.”

For Meador, leaning into her training as a clinician has helped her break down language barriers and better support her teammates.

“The common language is Special Olympics, and that is the one shared experience that we can all speak.”

Special Olympics

Special Olympics Florida provides year-round sports training and competition, crucial health services, and life-changing leadership programs to people with intellectual disabilities, at no cost to the athletes or their caregivers. The organization serves 60,000 athletes statewide and seeks to build communities where people with intellectual disabilities are treated with respect and given the opportunities they deserve. To learn more, visit