Speaking From The Heart

By Nance Larsen

July 5, 2018

Special Olympics track and field athlete Ayesha Abdul-Jillil knows a thing or two about public speaking – she’s been training for her moment in the spotlight for years as a Special Olympics Alaska brand ambassador.  She is well-known and well-loved by the community in her hometown of Anchorage, and is a frequent and sought-after Special Olympics guest speaker at events, Rotary International, fundraisers and more. 

That spotlight was never brighter than during the 2018 USA Games Opening Ceremony when Ayesha flawlessly led nearly 4,000 athletes in reciting the athlete oath. Proudly watching from the sidelines were her mom and dad, several aunts, her sister, a niece and her beloved gramma.

“It was such an honor to be in front of thousands of people and the millions watching on TV. My goal was to go on stage and crush it,” says Ayesha.

Ayesha has worked at Special Olympics Alaska as an office assistant for 12 years.  She was nominated to lead the athlete oath by her co-worker, Sarah.

Ten years ago, Ayesha decided to challenge herself and learn a new sport – previously she had competed in snowshoeing.  She chose track and field because of the similarities of the sports in form and function.  Starting last May, to prepare for the Games, Ayesha’s coach challenged her to run a 400m every day. She committed to eating healthy and working out every day at the Special Olympics Alaska Fitness Center. She also trained with two Unified Partners from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Her dedication and hard work paid off: at the track and field events at the 2018 Games, Ayesha took gold in the 100m run, silver in the 400m run and bronze in shot put. 

In addition to competing in track and field, Ayesha also competes in bowling – her favorite sport.  Be warned: if she invites you to a friendly game, prepare to be crushed.  She’s got a wicked game of high scores and plenty of turkeys.