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Fox wins gold, stresses importance of good mental health

Awarded gold in 50-yard breaststroke at 2022 USA Games
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Harry Fox swims at Rosen Aquatic Center during the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games

Harry Fox has been a Special Olympics athlete for 43 years, but some of his favorite moments were at the 2022 USA Games. He has brought home gold, competed in the 2014 and 2022 Games, was awarded an Athlete of the Year nomination in 2019 and has achieved several other accomplishments so far in his career. After returning home from Florida, Fox was overwhelmed with support.

Fox represented Team Tennessee from Area 2 – Greater Memphis area as a swimmer. When he saw Special Olympics Tennessee shared photos of him competing on social media, he erupted into tears.

“I was so touched. When I saw that the first time, I guess I was just in a moment. It touched me deeply because I knew I was down there for a reason. I was down there to get something for me and to represent my family and to represent Area 2,” said Fox.

Fox was motivated to represent Team Tennessee, Greater Memphis and his family. He comes from a big family and is the baby of twelve siblings. Among other awards, he finished in first place in the 50-yard breaststroke.

“Having my mom, dad, and older sister look down from heaven was a big part that wanted me to push even harder. I told myself that I’d come down to Orlando to have fun and do my best,” said Fox. “When I won the gold, I remember thinking of them and my idol, Michael Phelps. My favorite memory was that win. I looked at the board when I finished and saw I was number one. The biggest part is to have faith in yourself.”

For Fox, being a Special Olympics athlete isn’t just about winning. He participates in swimming, basketball, soccer, volleyball and bowling. He is a former powerlifter. When it comes to competitions, it’s important for him to be a supporter as well.

“What I can give is to the best of my ability when I’m doing a Special Olympics event. I put my heart into it. You’re trying to be the best, but others want to be the best too. You have to put yourself in a place where you can be a winner and a supportive athlete to motivate others to do better,” said Fox.

Being an athlete also teaches mental strength and how to be a teammate. Fox remembered a time he was competing in a volleyball match, and he let his emotions get the best of him. He’s learned that you have to be in the mindset to be a team player. He’s realized that quitting would mean that you’ve given up on yourself and others.

Having a strong mind is something Special Olympics teaches its athletes through their Healthy Athletes program. Strong Minds is an interactive learning event focused on developing adaptive coping skills. A variety of strategies for maintaining emotional wellness under stress are explored, such as: thinking positive thoughts, releasing stress and connecting with others. Strong Minds gives athletes tools with which they can actively identify and use health and emotional wellness practices that work best for them.

“It was fun to participate in Healthy Athletes while I was in Florida. I got a booklet that talks about how to manage stress and how to help our bodies,” said Fox. "It talks about being in a good mindset to be ready to go through your normal days of life. I got a stress ball that I’ve learned how to use too. If there’s something wrong, they can let us know a way we can tell someone to fix small things to help you.”

The Team Tennessee delegation stayed on property at Walt Disney World throughout the USA Games. The organization had many supporters and partners during their competition week. Opening Ceremonies and some competitions were broadcast on platforms such as ABC and ESPN.

“My sister was keeping up on me through social media and my girlfriend saw me during Opening Ceremonies. There are different organizations that step up and are inclusive. It’s good to have different people with different disabilities be represented,” said Fox. “We have a gift that we can show through sport. We are people and we have a disability. I’m a big WWE fan and I’ve noticed over the last two months when I was watching that the Special Olympics logo was there. Organizations have shown that they have a big heart.”

“Let me win, but if I can’t win, let me be brave in the attempt,” is the Special Olympics Athletes’ Pledge. With over two decades of experience, Fox knows the pledge is still as important as it was when the organization was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver.