My first step is to have respect for myself because if we have respect for ourselves, we have respect for others. Also, to just look at other people as if I was in their shoes. Another is to take time to listen to somebody because when I listen, I learn more about that person and learn how to talk to that person. In summary, learn, listen and take time to develop respect for the person.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Loretta Claiborne at Special Olympics ‘Succeeding on the Front Lines of Health Equity’ event in New York City, New York. The event was made possible through the efforts of the Golisano Foundation.

Loretta Claiborne serves as the Chief Inspiration Officer and Vice Chair, Board of Directors of Special Olympics and is truly an amazing woman who has not only touched the lives of hundreds of thousands but has changed the lives of all whom she’s met. She is a woman of faith who shares her personal story to promote hope and tolerance for people around the world. In 2000, Walt Disney Productions created The Loretta Claiborne Story about her inspiring life.

Claiborne is a world-class runner and gifted motivational speaker who happens to also be a Special Olympics athlete and a person who has an intellectual disability. She is an accomplished public speaker, with notable engagements including introducing President Clinton at the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games and appearing twice on the Oprah Show. She communicates in 4 languages and is fluent in American Sign Language.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Loretta! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up with a mother that had seven children that made it and two that didn’t. Later, we adopted one. So, I grew up in a big family in a housing project. My mother knew as soon as I was born that I had an intellectual disability. I was born partially blind and was held back the first three years of school. At that time, most people like me were in institutions but my mother fought for me. Her number one dream was for me to graduate from high school. But my number one dream at the time was to be a nurse. Then I wanted to be a veterinarian and then I wanted to be an athlete just like any other kid. My mother made sure that in school I received the same treatment as my siblings. She wanted to keep all her children together, so she fought for me to stay in public school. It was a long, hard journey. I got bullied and still carry what I call my tattoos, but they are my childhood scars.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I always say, “God is my strength and Special Olympics is my joy.” That’s my code because God gives me strength no matter what. It’s a motto that carried me through many difficult times in life, and served as an anchor when things were going well.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For many, a leader is someone who stands at the podium, but my definition goes back to 2003. My teammates and I were getting ready to travel to Dublin, Ireland for the Special Olympics World Games. One of our teammates that year needed a lot of additional support. Everybody was asking me to check on her, but I felt like at that moment we all needed to be there for her. We were all one team, so we had to be there for each other. Leadership means bringing a group of people together and helping them understand that they each bring an important piece to the table. The success of a leader is therefore measured by the strength of the team that they lead.

I often say that the word team means together everyone achieves more. To me, that’s leadership.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I do it the cheapest way possible. I go running. I started running in 1966 at the age of 12. I used to get really angry. I took a lot of medication as a kid for my anger. My mom used to say that the results of running were better than me taking medication. I use running as my vehicle to think. I would run around the projects and come back as a totally different person. Yes, I ran competitively, yes, I ran well, but running was also my go-to way to relieve stress, clear my mind, and think.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

From my mother I learned that prejudice is taught not only on the school playground, but also at home. She taught all her children to accept others who are not like them, be it because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or level of abilities. I now realize how hopeful she was that other parents were teaching their children to be accepting of people of different abilities, because that would have meant that they were accepting of me. So when I look at diversity and inclusion today, I am hopeful that parents continue to teach their children by example to accept one another and see value in what everyone brings to the table. These are the children that grow up to build diverse teams and build successful organizations.

Companies like Microsoft, Toyota, Bank of America, to name a few, hire people with intellectual disabilities and help them succeed in the job market because people on their teams learned about the value of diversity early on. When I speak to executives at these companies, they share that with some training, people with intellectual disabilities are some of the best workers they ever had.

I am grateful that many years ago a company like that hired me. I am also grateful to the work that Special Olympics continues doing to educate and encourage others to build diverse teams that are inclusive of people like me.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

When you have a diverse group of people working together, no matter if it’s people with intellectual disabilities, or people of color, or indigenous people, they learn from each other and about each other. That’s when the barriers break down and each individual starts to bring something to the table.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

My first step is to have respect for myself because if we have respect for ourselves, we have respect for others. Also, to just look at other people as if I was in their shoes. Another is to take time to listen to somebody because when I listen, I learn more about that person and learn how to talk to that person. In summary, learn, listen and take time to develop respect for the person.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

This problem has existed for a long time and I don’t know if it can be solved, but I need to stay positive and say that it can be improved. In my role as Chief Inspiration Officer at Special Olympics, I am often asked if we can put an end to the discrimination of people with intellectual disabilities. I stay optimistic when I think of all the great work that we have accomplished so far to bring about the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in sports, in education, and in our healthcare system. Optimism, coupled with work that we each can do to improve the status quo will inevitably lead to positive change.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have breakfast with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. I met him briefly in the United Arab Emirates when I visited the country for our World Games in 2019. He had a very special way of talking about people with intellectual disabilities. He said that they should be seen and valued for who they are, and called them people of determination. I would love to have breakfast with him so we can discuss how we can help other global leaders take a similar attitude towards people with disabilities in their countries, because this will help drive positive actions for this population.

Can you share a book or movie that has had a deep impact on your life?

I like watching movies that bring me joy. Maybe they are not entirely realistic, but I like watching them to balance out anything negative that I come across in life. I like the movie Bustin’ Loose because I can laugh with those kids. I get a kick out of them. It’s the story of a guy who goes across the country with a group of children who have intellectual and physical challenges and the adventures he hits along the way. It’s a funny movie. It’s not realistic, but it brings me joy when I watch it.

How can our readers follow your work online?

You can visit or follow us on social media. We are on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. There are many ways to get involved with Special Olympics — from cheering on the athletes at local competitions, to coaching sports, to volunteering at a Healthy Athletes screening, and beyond. Reach out to your local Special Olympics office to learn how your skills can make a difference in the community.

Thank you for these really excellent insights Loretta, We greatly appreciate the time you spent with this and wish you continued success!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.