Miss America 2022 and Renee Manfredi talk Special Olympics (Interview)

Miss America 2022 and Renee Manfredi talk Special Olympics
Miss America 2022 and Renee Manfredi talk Special Olympics /

The title of Miss America 2022 goes to Emma Broyles, the first Korean American to hold that title. And just the year before that, the 21-year-old young woman was crowned Miss Alaska. Broyles has been a long-time supporter of Special Olympics as her older brother, Brendan, has Down syndrome and is a Special Olympics athlete.

The global movement aims to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a multitude of sports for those of all ages with intellectual disabilities. Broyles has been touring with Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger Renee Manfredi, who has been a Special Olympics athlete for over 15 years.

Hidden Remote had the opportunity to speak to both about how Broyles uses her platform to spread awareness about Special Olympics, the programs the movement offers, and what it means to Manfredi to be an athlete within the organization. Be sure to also check out the full video interview at the end!

* This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

Miss America 2022 and Renee Manfredi talk Special Olympics

Spreading awareness through a national platform

Hidden Remote: Emma, you were crowned Miss America in 2022 and you were the first Korean American to hold that title. How did that feel and was there any pressure?

Emma Broyles: It’s been a huge honor to be able to represent the Korean community during my year as Miss America. I’ve had the pleasure of doing quite a few events related to my Korean heritage which has been really special because I think it’s so important to have representation in all different aspects of society. Not just in business, not just in medicine and science. But also in the entertainment industry. So it’s been a really huge honor. But also to be able to highlight of course my work with Special Olympics. I think that being Miss America has given me a huge, national platform to highlight the things that I’m passionate about. Especially my work with Special Olympics and the importance of inclusion. So that’s just been a really special opportunity for me that I’ve been trying to use the absolute most.

HR: How do you use your platform to spread awareness?

Broyles: It has been really just a tremendous honor to be working so closely with Special Olympics this year as Miss America. I never would have anticipated actually winning Miss America. And before, the work I had done with Special Olympics was kind of concentrated on Alaska of course, though I really wanted to be able to work with Special Olympics at a higher level. And so now, [I get] to go to so many [events] – Special Olympics USA Games and World Cup. It’s just been a phenomenal experience, and just getting to spread the message of why inclusion is so incredibly important. Especially as a tool in today’s world that is so incredibly divisive has been really special and I think that it’s been an honor to be able to bring light to the world wherever we can.

A personal connection to Special Olympics

HR: Your brother Brendan is a Special Olympics athlete. What sports does he play?

Broyles: The special thing about Special Olympics is the fact that there’s so many different sports that athletes have the option to try. I can tell you Brendan has probably done more sports than I can count on both hands. But he started out doing track and field and that’s been his consistent sport.

Renee Manfredi: When I first joined Special Olympics I was in my twenties. And I competed in basketball, softball, swimming, and soccer. And as the years progressed in Hawaii, I had the opportunity to compete in the 2018 USA games in soccer ,and we came back with gold. It was just really special because that was my first USA Games.

Special Olympics programs

HR: What’s it been like for you two to work together?

Manfredi: I had the opportunity to meet Miss America at the 2022 USA Games in Orlando, Florida. She was at one of our Unified Leadership trainings. What’s cool about the Unified Leadership program is that most of Special Olympics focuses on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This new program is focusing on individuals without intellectual and developmental disabilities in the workplace. We are offering them suggestions and ideas on how to best work or adapt to working with their co-works that have intellectual and developmental disabilities. What’s cool is that [Broyles is] from Alaska and I’m originally from Hawaii so in a way we’re practically neighbors.

HR: Can you tell me about the Partners Club?

Broyles: Partners Club is a name for the Special Olympics school program that we came up with in the state of Alaska. Even for students who weren’t actually involved with Special Olympics, they still kind of felt that level of connection and empathy. And I think that just spread throughout the entire school. I remember when we received our official champion banner school recognition from Special Olympics, we had a huge school-wide ceremony. ESPN was there because we were also named one of the top 20 schools in the U.S. for inclusion. And it was really cool to see even the students who weren’t involved  with the Partners Club and the Special Olympics programs at our school still showed up. That’s the thing I really love about the school programs is the fact that they get that message of inclusion implemented in the minds of young students at such a young age that they can then carry with them into the workforce, which will ultimately in turn make our world and our society a more welcoming and inclusive place for all.

HR: What would you say is your proudest moment?

Manfredi: I think my proudest moment was not just going to the 2018 USA Games, it was just being in Special Olympics. I never knew Special Olympics existed until I was in my twenties. We moved to Hawaii and we tried to get home and community based services. They kept saying I was too high functioning, too low functioning. And so we were pretty much left with, what now? And then my mom recommended Special Olympics. I confess, I was hesitant because I’m not good at sports and I wasn’t keen on the idea of being made fun of, again. But my mom said, and I always remember this, ‘what have we got to lose? We don’t like it, we don’t go again.’ So we took that big leap of faith and walked through those doors and everybody was like, welcome, and gave me a hug. Which is traditional in Hawaii, we hug. And I was like, wow. This is where I belong. I think that was my proudest moment was just finally being accepted just as I am because I’ve never had that before. The expectations at school for me were be like everybody else, behave like everybody else, keep up like everybody else, and that was hard. So I think just saying I’m a Special Olympics athlete was my proudest moment.

How to support Special Olympics

HR: What do you want people to know about Special Olympics and how can they support it?

Broyles: The most amazing thing about Special Olympics is the fact that if you want to get involved, it’s not a full-time commitment. I think what a lot of people think [is that] to get involved with Special Olympics you have to be a coach [or] you have to dedicate to a certain number of hours every week. But you can do something as simple as maybe donating to you local torch run, or participating in the torch run, or volunteering a couple of times a week at your local Special Olympics practices. I mean Special Olympics is a worldwide organization, [it] really has a hand in every community. So it’s so easy to get involved.

Manfredi: Absolutely. You can be as simple as a spectator. The people don’t really know what Special Olympics is, they get it confused with the Paralympics which is totally different. So I think the most important thing is just seeing what it’s about. Be a spectator, cheer us on. I guarantee you will be surprised at what we can do. It’s a life experience, a life changer, an eye opener. And you sometimes may think how can I get involved? Well the first step is to see what it’s about. If you want to learn more you can look us up on the website.