Marcia Barret, 31, has been a Special Olympics athlete for eight years. A swimmer, she hopes to qualify for the 2019 Abu Dhabi World Games.

Matthew Wynne, 20, has been a Special Olympics athlete for 10 years. He plays not one Special Olympics sport, but three, excelling in basketball, softball and soccer.

Katy Wilson, 38, has been a Special Olympics gymnast for 32 years and has won more than 200 medals. She was once complimented on her cartwheel by Olympic champions Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner.

And Coca-Cola, 132, has been a Special Olympics founding partner for the past 50 years.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this partnership, Coca-Cola has renewed its commitment to fostering inclusion and understanding by employing individuals with intellectual disabilities, such as Barret, Wynne and Wilson. These talented professionals are supporting the company’s role in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games taking place this week in Seattle, Wash.

Becki Cedrone, director of Coca-Cola North America’s Community Marketing, says, “As a founding partner of Special Olympics, it’s crucial that we embrace individuals with intellectual disabilities in all aspects of our partnership and work. We must break the paradigm and think differently when filling positions. Individuals with intellectual disabilities should be given more opportunities.”

Aaron Uson, operations manager at Swire Coca-ColaCoca-Cola’s local bottler for the Games –  echoes this sentiment. “We wanted an inclusion effect with our hires,” he says. “During the Games, all our staff will wear the same uniforms, regardless of if they came from Special Olympics or Swire Coca-Cola. We are one team.”

Meet three of the Special Olympics athletes working with this united Coca-Cola team to ensure the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games deliver incredible athlete and fan experiences.

Marcia Barret: Special Olympics Operations Assistant, Swire Coca-Cola

Voices of the Athletes

For Barret, Special Olympics is far more than a sporting event. It is a movement that will shift conversations about those with intellectual disabilities for years to come.

“It has been my lifelong goal to change the world around me and this opportunity is a lifetime’s worth of work finally coming into fruition,” she says of her short-term assignment with Coca-Cola.

In her role, Barrett supports Swire Coca-Cola with its Games preparation. She is also responsible for the selection and training of 20 Special Olympics athletes who will work alongside Swire Coca-Cola employees to staff the Games and distribute beverages.

Though Barret has never before worked in the beverage industry or managed projects of this magnitude, her manager, Uson believes the leadership skills she developed through athletics lend themselves to her new role. “She’s a ball of energy – a sparkplug ready to go,” he says.  

Barret’s experience as a Special Olympics athlete also uniquely qualifies her to support Coca-Cola’s Special Olympics activations. “When I started preparing for the Games, I didn’t see everything that someone with Marcia’s experience would see,” Uson adds. “She brings a different vision for the needs of athletes and helps Coca-Cola know how to support them.”

Voices of the Athletes

Barret likes to joke that her real job is “to put Aaron in check.” She adds, “It’s so much more than a working relationship. I acquired a lifelong friend.”

Voices of the Athletes
Barret and Uson team up to support Swire Coca-Cola’s Special Olympics preparations 

She and her new friend and colleague are working side by side to ensure athletes have a phenomenal experience at next week’s USA Games, but Barret emphasizes the need for greater inclusion for those will intellectual disabilities outside of athletics.

Barret says, “We have the drive, passion and motivation beyond most people’s recognition. My diagnosis doesn’t define who I am. I am going to prove to the world and myself that I can do anything.”

Matthew Wynne: Special Olympics Assistant, The Coca-Cola Company

When Matthew Wynne received his first paycheck at his first job, he was ecstatic.

“I’ve never had a job before,” he explains. “So getting my first paycheck really felt exciting. The best thing about working is that feeling like you’re a responsible adult earning your keep in the world while contributing to society's well-being.”

That his first paycheck came from The Coca-Cola Company was an even bigger thrill.

“Landing my first job at Coca-Cola is really special,” Wynne says. “Coca-Cola is a really well known and respected company. When I'm working, I get to add value in meetings.”

He adds, “I am so proud of my company, that they were a founding sponsor of Special Olympics and that still they are 50 years later. Both Special Olympics and Coca-Cola are great organizations that give opportunities to athletes like me to feel respected and included in the Games.”

Voices of the Athletes
Wynne and Cedrone address Special Olympics athletes at the Coca-Cola Headquarters in advance of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.

Wynne works closely with Cedrone to plan Coca-Cola’s presence and interactions with athletes and fans. Prior to the Games, he selected the giveaways for Coca-Cola’s Special Olympics activations, budgeting and communicating those decisions to team members. During the Games, Wynne will set up product distribution points, dispensing product to athletes and refilling coolers.

More than a first job, Wynne sees his work with Coca-Cola as evidence of the value individuals with intellectual disabilities bring to the work place.

“I’m the voice of the athletes,” he explains. “I know what they know and like. I represent the athletes’ point of view.”

Cedrone believes that as a subject matter expert on Special Olympics with 10 years of competition under his belt, Wynne provides essential insights that help Coca-Cola to understand what athletes want from sponsors and partners.

“Coca-Cola’s shared values with Special Olympics are inclusion, optimism and moments of happiness,” she adds. “I truly feel that all of these have come to life by having Matthew on our team. We are a better, stronger team because of him.”

Katy Wilson: Storytelling Talent, Brand Coca-Cola

When Coca-Cola created its 2018 Share a Coke Special Olympics social media content, the creative team wanted input from those who directly benefit from Special Olympics.

Cue Katy Wilson.

A Special Olympics athlete since she was six years old, Wilson has three decades worth of stories of joy, bravery and achievement to share. Alongside her mother, Jeanne Wilson, Katy sat down with Coca-Cola’s creative team to identify the stories that best capture the spirit of Special Olympics.

Katy explains, “I just want everybody to know my story – how I've been involved in Special Olympics for many years ­– because I love it so much. I love being with my teammates and my family because they are my biggest fans.”

This message of sharing meaningful experiences resonates with the Share a Coke campaign’s spirit. Indeed, in its fifth year, Share a Coke 2018 encourages fans to “share it like you mean it.”

“Share a Coke is about sharing a moment and sharing a story,” explains Jennifer Healan, group director, integrated marketing content, Coca-Cola North America. “As we partnered with Katy we thought the best way to tell this story actually wasn’t for us to tell it, but to hear directly from her what she felt, what she was proud of and what she accomplished.”

Her mom agrees, “It's so wonderful to give the athletes that chance to have their own voice, to tell their story. Who better to tell the story than the athletes themselves?”

This additional platform for Katy to share her story celebrates her not only as an athlete but as a talented spokesperson for her Special Olympics journey. “Yes, Katy’s a wonderful athlete, but she's also a speaker, a worker, a volunteer, a role model,” Jeanne says. “The skills they learn in their sports carry over into their jobs and into their lives. She is able to go and to be a productive, happy, member of our community. She often says in her speeches, ‘I love my life,’ and I think she does.”

“I do,” Katy interjects. “I love my life and I always will.”

Stay tuned for more Journey coverage from the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, crafted in partnership with Special Olympics athletes.