Celebrate A Champion of Inclusion in my Life!

August 10, 2020

Hanna Atkinson 23, lives in Littleton Colorado. She has been an avid public speaker and gave the commencement speech at her high school graduation. She became a Denver 7 contributor in 2015 and was awarded the Heartland Broadcast Emmy in 2017 for her segment “More Alike Than Different.” Hanna was selected to be a Special Olympic International Health Messenger in 2017 to educate fellow athletes on becoming their best in sports and in life. She is creating a business to inspire joy, acceptance, and empowerment in memory of her brother, and she volunteers for many community nonprofits. In Hanna’s free time she likes to ski, cycle, works out, plays chess, and listens to classical music.

Published on Medium on August 3, 2020 by Hanna Atkinson, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger and Special Olympics Colorado athlete

Who in your life has been a Champion of Inclusion?

Stephanie is very clever and detailed like when she realized that my SSIGM suit needed more adjustments, she helped me to fix it and she does continue to take the time to make sure that I come prepared. One thoughtful example is when Stephanie bought me packing cubes for when we travel together. That is a champion beyond inclusion.

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Stephanie and I at Olive Garden while celebrating life and our birthdays! 

Our adventures include going to our favorite coffee shop, Dirt Coffee, here in Littleton, Colorado. Also getting to spend some time celebrating our birthdays at my favorite restaurant in Colorado where I have worked close to 5 years, Olive Garden.

We were also able to attend Capitol Hill Day in February of 2020, together in Washington, D.C. While there, I was able to meet Stephanie’s uncle for the first time and what a magical time it was when we just talked about life. Stephanie and I walked in Washington, D.C. and I remembered telling her about the time when all ten of the SSIGMs in the world attended our first training in January of 2019 and what the working environment was like since then. Stephanie really enjoyed this conversation because she cared and took an interest in knowing the critical details of my experience. She even bought me an awesome gift, ghost pepper chips, when we traveled back from Washington, D.C. together! That was a highlight of the trip. Another highlight was when Stephanie first met Mary Davis and Tim Shriver and The Big Show from WWE!! Those are fantastic connections established between me and Stephanie and there will be more to come on that.

Throughout our adventures, we have learned a lot together. I can show how involved Stephanie is and has made a huge impact on my life because she included me as her friend right away. Here are a few ways that Stephanie has supported me in my life: she listens, she guides me to the right opportunities. And she has taught me that stepping back and following your passion is the platform of respectfulness, and seeking help if you need it are all values that are part of being a champion of inclusion.

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Stephanie and I at Copper Mountain with gorgeous Colorado snow. 

Here is more great insight from my champion of inclusion.

1. Be there for each other

2. Help each other to see improvement of growth

3. Have fun

4. Be willing to listen

5. Always look to expand your knowledge

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Stephanie and I having a social distance picnic. 

When I first received the news of being an SSIGM, I didn’t know what to expect. I received a whole new set of responsibilities and found that there were so many options for leaders like me to show what they can do in the Special Olympics Inclusion Revolution. I have the incredible opportunity to connect with all other SSIGMs professionally and with that, especially, is where I found common ground with Stephanie Levine. She has really helped me to stay connected with other athletes through Zoom calls and reminds me that we can get through tough situations like COVID-19.

The most exciting opportunity Stephanie has involved me in during COVID-19 is an e-pen pal. Now I can make a new friend by emailing an e-pen pal and getting to know more of the Special Olympics staff and volunteers. I think this really is an amazing idea that is new and exciting to be active with, and you can learn a lot about someone when you are open and honest with them. Looking ahead, Stephanie will help me receive my two Athlete Leader Program University certifications in Health and Fitness and communication.

The relationship between Stephanie and I is one-of-a-kind and who knew that she also does have a loud personality and you know what? I have the same thing that I have a loud personality and that is ok to have because we are not perfect humans but we can be there for each other and celebrate each other’s imperfections. As a person who has experienced loss, she has helped me to continue to pursue my hopes and dreams and push past some sadness that I can feel. So that I can be who I want to be and help how I want to help, share hope, share joy, share love and share freedom in this world. Stephanie is helping me with the endless dreams I want to achieve in life, with the most important being the right to be a leader and the right to speak and without being judged for who I am.

Stephanie is well admired by my family and I know she will help me to continue as a phenomenal SSIGM throughout my four-year term. In my point of view in life, Stephanie Levine has a heart of gold and she has the biggest smile when she greets you. I am very pleased that I can share the real hero of a champion that is Stephanie Levine.

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Stephanie and I enjoying each other’s company at a Special Olympics Colorado Young Professionals Board meeting in early 2020.