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Looking back: Twenty years with SOMO

SOMO athlete Larry Stephens with Mark Musso at a bowling event

Mark Musso has served as President & CEO of Special Olympics Missouri since September 1991.

I was asked by our communications team to blog about my first 20 years with SOMO…How am I supposed to cover all that has happened in the past two decades in a few paragraphs? Thanks to an event I was honored to serve on the planning team for – I now have some answers. We taped the History of the U.S. Programs at the beautiful Eunice Kennedy Shriver Complex in New Jersey last week, and it was during that taping I was reminded of the really important milestones since my first involvement as a high school freshman in 1972 in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Mark Musso, center, with Hall of Fame athletes Jane Howell and Shirley Shattuck


By example, they show us how to live our lives not every day, but every second.


When I was first asked to help at an event, I was a young Key Club member, and the Reno County ARC made a presentation asking for volunteers to help run a “retarded track meet.” Dear Lord, how long ago that was in so many ways. Upon my arrival to an event that was chaotic, disorganized and without any spectators, I began to meet my first-ever friends from Special Olympics. That day began to change my life due to the many lessons I would learn from these new friends.

I left Gowans Stadium that day with a sense of “rightness” during a time filled with many wrongs. As I began to attend more events I learned there were those who “got it” and many more who didn’t have a clue. Moving to Wichita State University, I continued my involvement on the Kansas Special Olympics Summer Games GMT (games management team). The number of folks who “got it” continued to grow, including Chief Richard LaMunyon who started the Law Enforcement Torch Run during that time.

Upon moving to Minnesota, I began my paid career with Special Olympics as the games operations director for the 1991 International Summer Games – there were thousands of people who “got it” there. After a brief stop as Minnesota’s executive director, I came to the Show-Me state in 1991 and began my time as SOMO president. In the early days, we (Board Chair Ralph Biele and I) made some major changes that resulted in identification of those who “got it” and those who never would. We asked the latter group to find another organization to dedicate themselves to and never looked back.

Former Board Chairman Dave Pudlowski, SOMO athlete Gordon Barnes and Mark Musso at a softball event

In these last two decades, I have learned the same lessons my colleagues shared during the taping of the History of Special Olympics recently. Once you “got it,” you realized it was about these incredible athletes teaching so many life lessons that many never learn. By example, they show us how to live our lives not every day, but every second. It’s about pure joy, honesty, laughter, compassion, acceptance and celebration of every second the good Lord has given us on this earth. Spend an afternoon with our Special Olympics athletes, and life seems much more important and easier when we forget all the junk we tend to fret over.

All who have been fortunate enough to “get it” know that you can live your life with purpose and passion. For me, Special Olympics has given me these two most important aspects of life and I will forever be indebted to the thousands of athletes I have had the honor to meet. As Tim Shriver told me recently – we all must keep the spirit alive. I hope to do that for many more years. I am honored to be a part of the SOMO team during this our 40th anniversary.