Five years ago, Coca-Cola’s 2018 Special Olympics Storytelling Intern Daniel Barich was aggressive, shy and mostly non-verbal.

Today, he talks to just about everyone he meets and prides himself on his competitive spirit and ability to boldly conduct on-camera interviews with confidence and a smile.

Barich, 22, had completed mental hospitalizations and residence programs to address the behavioral symptoms of his Autism Spectrum Disorder, but it was ultimately Special Olympics that made a difference.

His mom, Patricia Smith, recalls, “He was very aggressive towards everyone and everything. But once he got involved in Special Olympics, he started opening up and he built confidence in himself. He has earned a lot of respect, learned a lot of skills, achieved accomplishments and made friends.”

Barich adds, “Before Special Olympics, I was bullied so much because of my disability. Special Olympics ended the bullying and helped me find a comfort zone. Sometimes people who don’t have disabilities think people with disabilities can’t do the same things as them. I proved I have just as much skill as people without disabilities.”

Beyond proving his athletic skills, Barich wants to inspire those off the field by telling his story. As part of an anti-bullying campaign, Barich had the opportunity to share his words of wisdom with students at a local middle school, encouraging them to speak up against bullying.

His latest storytelling endeavor came full circle, drawing from his experience with Special Olympics.

As part of a two-day storytelling internship with The Coca-Cola Company during the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, Barich captured the Games’ spirit through still photography and interviews streamed on the company’s Instagram channel.


This experience offered Barich an opportunity to hone his storytelling skills and pursue his dream career in broadcasting. He hopes to become a sports announcer and interview athletes on the sidelines, uniting his passions for sports and media.

“Other employment programs have tried to talk him into doing other things," Smith said. "This internship gave him an opportunity to prove that even if he has disabilities, he’s capable of doing what he wants in the field he wants.”

Here is some of Barich’s impressive body of work from the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games:

Good effort
‘His face captures my emotion during games.’ Barich explains. ‘I use to be aggressive but now when I’m trying to stay calm I look like him, looking towards the bench. From the bench, people are trying to tell me where to go in formation and if I did something good they say, ‘good effort, good effort,’ and it helps me focus.’ 

Daniel Barich

Focused and determined
‘They’re all focused and determined to win gold. They’re competitive. In Special Olympics, you have to have a good competitive spirit,’ explains Barich. ‘My own competitive spirit is more positive than it was before.” 

Daniel Barich

Flag football
This image reminds Barich of his own time playing flag football. ‘I feel very focused when I play flag football,” he says. 

Daniel Barich

Nervous
‘When we are nervous,’ explains Barich, ‘we do what the pros do. You take a deep breath. Even though so manypeople are watching us, you just look up at the hoop. It gives you more time to think.’ 

Daniel Barich

Action shots
Capturing action shots was important to Barich, as such images demonstrate the power of athletes and the high level of competition during Special Olympics. 

Daniel Barich

Mixed-gender
‘Special Olympics is a mixed-gender sport,” explains Barich. ‘Both genders can do as much as the other, and it encourages everyone to work together as a team.’ 

Daniel Barich

Unified
Some teams competing during the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games are ‘Unified,’ meaning competitors with intellectual disabilities play alongside those who do not. To Barich, this image represented the power of athletes and ‘partners’ playing together. 

Daniel Barich

Sportsmanship
‘This represents sportsmanship,’ says Barich. ‘A lot of the times at the end of a game, you never even know if you’ll make a new friend. And yes, I’ve made a lot of friends with Special Olympics. A lot of the athletes here were probably shy like me, and now they can come out of their shell.’ 

Daniel Barich

High fives
Barich says, ‘High fives are a good sign of motivation, which helps with the courage people need in Special Olympics.’ 

Daniel Barich

Cheerleaders
‘Cheerleaders help motivate fans and athletes,’ Barich says. ‘It makes athletes feels great, like they’re famous.’ 

Daniel Barich

Notes
At the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, Coca-Cola hosted a station where fans could write notes of encouragement to athletes. ‘Power of positivity is really important,’ says Barich. ‘Fans help people know that they have someone to cheer for them.’ 

Daniel Barich

Awesome
Of Coca-Cola’s 50-year founding partnership with Special Olympics, Barich says, ‘One word: awesome.’

Daniel Barich

Referee

Daniel Barich

Referee
Having previously volunteered as a Special Olympics referee, Barich has a healthy level of respect for the challenging role officials have during games. 

Daniel Barich

Rise with Us

Daniel Barich

Rise with Us
Barich says, “To me, ‘Rise with Us’ means that all of the states came together as one to make a huge impact on Special Olympics.” 

Daniel Barich

Volunteers
‘Volunteers help athletes and keep them prepared,’ Barich says. ‘They’re very supportive and encouraging. I know they’re helping make a big difference in Special Olympics.’ 

Daniel Barich