Personal Story

Feature Issue on Self-Advocacy for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Power and Pride


Angel Athenas , of Huntington, New York, won four gold medals in the 2019 Special Olympics World Games, among many other awards for powerlifting. View an ESPN special about her life, An Angel Found Her Wings .

I spent the first years of my life in foster care in New York City before I was adopted at age 8. It was not a good time in my life. At 35, I can talk about it now because I have had the help of my family, therapy and FREE to BE, the Long Island PrideAbility group formed by the Family Residences and Essential Enterprises (FREE) agency. But I have always felt different.

Angel Athenas, wrapped in a rainbow flag and wearing sunglasses, smiles and marches in a Pride parade while crowds look on.

“The most important thing is that we all need a goal to achieve,” says Angel Athenas.

For 10 years, I sang with the FREE Jazz Ensemble. We performed all over! We were on TV a lot. I enjoy entertaining and meeting and talking to people. I like being different and I am great at making myself look good. I am not shy. It took a long while, and many changes for me to be able to just be me. When FREE to BE first started, I felt good just talking about me. As the group grew, when I talked about myself, I think other people were able to start talking about themselves. We are like family. Everything said in the meeting, stays there.

I have had many different feelings about myself. I started out straight, then I felt strongly about being a transgendered man. Now, since I have won the “Strongest Women in the World” in my weight class in Special Olympics, I am empowered to be the best I can be with just what I am. I have spoken to many people and groups, from SANYS in Albany and Long Island to Special Olympic Special Events on Long Island and in New York City.

We all just have to be who we are. The most important thing is that we all need a goal to achieve. We need to feel positive about ourselves. We all need to keep trying and never give up. We are all allowed to change and grow and become new and different all the time in our lives. By telling people how I feel and how I live my life every day, I hope that I give people hope in the future and inspire them to have compassion for each one of us. We are all different, but we all are the same. Being with people, making friends, laughing and being myself with people who like me – that’s really important. To all of us.