March 15, 2011
By Christa Schmidt ’11
When the Special Olympics Minnesota Board of Directors meets March 24 in Minneapolis, College of Saint Benedict first-year student Danielle Liebl will step into her role as one of its new members.
"It's very exciting and nerve-racking," said Danielle, daughter of Mike and Sherri Liebl of Richmond, Minn., who is a peace studies and theology major at CSB. The Liebls were named the Special Olympics Minnesota 2009 Outstanding Family.
Her recent appointment to the Board of Directors for a three-year term adds another accomplishment to her long list of achievements with Special Olympics.
Danielle, who has cerebral palsy, became a Special Olympics athlete at age 11, competing in golf and swimming the breaststroke, backstroke and freestyle. She won gold medals in the 25-meter breaststroke and backstroke and the 50-meter freestyle at the 2006 Special Olympics National Games. She also competed on the Rocori High School swim team. Throughout the six years she competed, Danielle earned more than 60 other medals from area and state competitions.
"It's a very welcoming and accepting environment," she said.
When a shoulder injury forced her to stop competing, Danielle remained active with the organization, attending Athlete Leadership Program classes and giving speeches about Special Olympics Minnesota. At Rocori, she started a Partner's Club for students with and without disabilities. The students in the club hang out, play games and watch movies with the intent of breaking down some of the stereotypes associated with disabilities.
"Eighty percent of savants have intellectual disabilities," Danielle said. "People with intellectual disabilities aren't stupid. They're not dumb. Their brains just function in a different way."
Danielle's passion led her into a summer internship in Washington, D.C., with Special Olympics International, where she helped organize the National Summit for Youth.
In October, Danielle's commitment to the youth-developed Special Olympics "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign earned her an invitation to the White House, where she watched President Obama sign "Rosa's Law." Because "the R words" (such as "mentally retarded" and "mental retardation") are so hurtful, the law eliminates them from medical and educational documentation and labor laws and replaces them with "intellectual disabilities."
In addition to shaking hands with President Obama, Danielle had the opportunity to meet 9-year-old Rosa Marcellino, who inspired the law, and other people supporting the Marcellino family, including celebrities.
"I called my mom and said, 'Guess who I just met?' She said, 'The president?' and I said, 'No! Stevie Wonder!' " Danielle said. "She said, 'That's my girl!' "
Danielle has met several other celebrities, including Minnesota Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson and other team members, Scrubs actor John McGinley, various politicians and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics.
The mission of Special Olympics Minnesota is to offer children and adults with intellectual disabilities year-round sports training and competition. It is based on the values of respect, accomplishment, choice, quality, partnership and integrity.