#Changemakers in the Disabilities Community: Tim Martin

Tim Martin’s introduction to Special Olympics (SO) was a bit unconventional, and at that time, he never could have predicted how it would permeate into his life forever. As a high schooler, Tim was – in his own words – a “troublemaker.” After one of his mischief-making incidents, his school signed him up to volunteer at an SO event where he met an athlete named Diana.

“Diana changed everything about my life. I went from a troublemaker to someone who was just grateful for the path I had been given in life. It was a life-changing experience getting to know her that day,” shared Tim.

Growing up, Tim didn’t have much. His mother worked 18 hours a day, and he didn’t have a father figure in his life, so he became bitter at a young age. Before his encounter with SO, Tim felt that he had been dealt an unfair lot in life. Meeting Diana – someone who exuded gratitude despite the obstacles she faced due to her disabilities – flipped a switch in him. He said he began to see the world in a new way, and it lit a fire inside of him to live differently.

After that day with SO, Tim began volunteering regularly with the organization and found himself interested in a career focused on serving others.

While working as a social worker after college, Tim took on a second job with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Arizona. That soon turned into a full-time job as he transitioned out of government work and into the nonprofit sector. At the YMCA, Tim worked on leadership programs, school-based programs and a youth sports program.

“After some time, I was looking to advance and become a CEO within the YMCA. Well, I received a call from Special Olympics – as I’d continued to be involved with them – asking if I was interested in doing that,” Tim said.

He said yes, and became the CEO of Special Olympics Arizona.

Tim Martin // photo David Norris
Tim Martin // photo David Norris

“About a week and a half into my job as CEO in Arizona, I had to give a speech. There were hundreds of people there, and I felt so nervous,” Tim remembered. “There was this woman there, she had Down syndrome and was probably 4’6’’. She grabbed me and looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to be great.’ And I went up there and gave probably the best speech I’ve ever given. That moment of confidence, that expectation she set, it was what I needed.”

After many years of working with SO, Tim doesn’t use the word “disabilities” to describe any of the athletes or anyone in the wider IDD, or intellectual and developmental disabilities, community.

“I’ve always struggled with the word ‘disabilities’ – it’s just different abilities. And it’s our job to provide a stage for all individuals to display their greatness. Our job is to reveal the greatness in every human being,” Tim shared. “The most powerful gift our athletes have is the human spirit.”

Special Olympics track and field athletes // photo Memory Ellington
Special Olympics track and field athletes // photo Memory Ellington

One of Tim’s proudest accomplishments is his work within Unified Sports, an SO initiative that brings together individuals with and without IDD to play on a team together. Through training and playing together, friendships are formed and stereotypes are broken.

“I was fortunate coming in because my mentor at SO for 12 years was Beau Douherty who founded Unified Sports. I got to learn about the program from him,” Tim said. “It was a missing ingredient in Arizona. Within the school system, SO had been pigeon-holed just to special education. We had the opportunity to grow that.”

Unified Sports was brought into the Arizona school system under Tim’s leadership. It became a sanctioned sport. “All of a sudden, you saw SO athletes being part of the track team, basketball team, wearing the same uniforms,” he remembered.

The Move to Texas

In 2018, Tim became the CEO of Special Olympics Texas. When he got to Texas, he immediately wanted to make those same changes here. “I wanted to bring that inclusion and health into SO Texas. It’s more than just sports. It’s everyday social interaction and opportunities for leadership for the athletes,” Tim shared.

Due to COVID-19, athletics are on hold. Still, SO Texas is now officially a partner of the University Interscholastic League which exists to provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic and music contests for students. When the pandemic ends, SO athletes will have the opportunity to participate in the league.

“I have had the pleasure of knowing many people who have committed careers to the disability space,” said Michael Thomas, executive director for My Possibilities, a Plano-based nonprofit that offers vocational education and job placement for adults with IDD, affectionately known as the HIPsters.

“I can’t think of many who are more genuine or who have dedicated as much effort to supporting our HIPsters than Tim,” Michael continued.

Tim’s family shares in his passion for SO. His wife, a special education teacher and child psychologist, has dedicated her life to students who have, as Tim would put it, different abilities. His two adult sons are both involved with SO.

“I raised two boys who don’t see differences, they see opportunities. I always thank the athletes in my speeches for helping me raise two wonderful boys. There’s no way I could’ve had the foresight and knowledge to raise individuals who are that caring,” Tim reflected.

Special Olympics flag football game // photo Kit Flynn
Special Olympics flag football game // photo Kit Flynn

As CEO, Tim gets the chance to live out his personal mission every day: To give SO athletes the chance to display their talents, and to watch each of them live out their individual purposes both within SO and out in the world.

“I’m amazed every day by our athletes and how they approach challenges. Despite the obstacles they each face, they have an incredible will to recognize and be recognized, to include and be included,” Tim remarked. “No matter where I am, SO is an amazing place to be. It’s been a magical two years here in Texas.”

My Possibilities > Special Olympics Texas >


The above content is sponsored. We have partnered with My Possibilities to spotlight #Changemakers in the disabilities community.

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