A Colorado woman has set a new record in the Special Olympics, but this one is off the field.
Mackenzie Beauvais-Nikl has been named co-chair of Special Olympics Colorado, making her the first Special Olympian to serve as a board chair for a chapter of the organization, anywhere in the world.
“It's amazing. I'm still in shock,” Beauvais-Nikl said. “I'm just beyond grateful to have this opportunity and to be the first athlete ever to be a co-chair for a board.”
Special Olympics is a worldwide organization that sponsors athletic competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Colorado chapter puts on more than 400 events in a typical year.
Beauvais-Nikl excels in snowboarding, soccer and basketball. On the board, she will work with a co-chair, John Shukie, whose 9-year-old daughter is a Special Olympics gymnast and swimmer. The arrangement mirrors the way Special Olympics matches people with and without disabilities on the playing field. They call them “unified teams.”
“So what unified means is everybody working together as one. So meaning like, if someone has a disability and then the other person does not, we are working together as one,” Beauvais-Nikl said.
Unified teams have been so popular that Shukie proposed applying the approach to board leadership. He sees it as a natural evolution of the Special Olympics mission.
“In the past decade or so, we've seen I think a shift from focusing simply or solely on athletics when it comes to Special Olympics, which is still very much central to the mission, to a more comprehensive approach,” he told Colorado Matters. “We found that the skills that are picked up both on and off the field help our Special Olympics athletes to be successful in life and things like holding jobs, and just having a productive life.”
Shukie and Beauvais-Nikl have their work cut out for them, as Special Olympics Colorado navigates the ongoing pandemic, and, as always, works to raise money. Beauvais-Nikl also hopes to increase diversity in the organization, and inspire people to think differently about intellectual disabilities.
“I have autism, right. And I know how to drive,” she said. “People always think somebody with a disability can't do a lot of stuff, you know? And so being on the board, I just think it would be a thing that people with and without disabilities can do whatever they put their mind to. We just might take a little longer to grasp everything.”
Beauvais-Nikl graduated from the Inclusive Higher Education Certificate Program at Metropolitan State University of Denver with a certificate in Photojournalism. Leadership at the Special Olympics isn’t new to her. She served on the U.S. Athlete Input Council and attended the Global Youth Leadership Summit in Abu Dhabi in 2019. Still, she was a bit surprised by the extra hours it takes to be board co-chair.
“Back-to-back meetings, like nonstop, not gonna lie,” she laughed.
Shukie hopes that Beauvais-Nikl will inspire more Special Olympics organizations to include athletes at the highest level.
“I'm hoping that by setting the trend here in Colorado, other states will do the same and have that athlete voice front and center at the table,” he said.