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Friday, February 22 , 2019, 3:18 am | Fair 46º


Santa Barbaran Jessica Simon Heading to Shanghai as Special Olympics Global Messenger

She will share the organization's vision and message in China after three decades of experience competing and doing outreach for the Special Olympics

Santa Barbaran Jessica Simon, front left, and her family are excited about her upcoming trip to China as a Special Olympics global messenger.
Santa Barbaran Jessica Simon, front left, and her family are excited about her upcoming trip to China as a Special Olympics global messenger.  (Simon Family photo)

If anyone knows the Santa Barbara Special Olympics scene, it’s Jessica Simon.

In a community that enthusiastically supports the sports organization, Simon competes in swimming, bocce, gymnastics, tennis and bowling, and conducts outreach work and speaks before schools, businesses and public events on behalf of the Special Olympics.

After over three decades with the organization, which serves people of all ages with intellectual disabilities, Simon was chosen to go to Shanghai, China next month with a handful of other Special Olympians as a global messenger, a leadership position where athletes spread the vision and message of the Special Olympics.

“I’m up to the challenge and whatever it takes of me, so I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.

Simon, who has Down syndrome, was at an Individual Living Institute social outing at Zodo’s bowling in Goleta earlier this month when Dustin Plunkett, the manager of development and athlete leadership with Special Olympics Southern California, broke the news.

“I had my phone out and I went to check my email, and I got the email saying I was going to go to Shanghai, China,” she told Noozhawk.

Simon attended Roosevelt Elementary School, Santa Barbara Junior High School, Santa Barbara High School and Santa Barbara City College, and is in many ways a product of the city’s supportive, community-oriented lifestyle, said Jessica’s father, Brad Simon, a retired city firefighter.

“Not once during that time was she ever chided, made fun of, bullied,” he told Noozhawk. “Never once. So that says something about our students and our staff and our school system here.”

Simon is the oldest of four siblings, and joined the Special Olympics in preschool. Her mother, CathyAnn, is the executive director of Santa Barbara Tennis Patrons, which hosts a tournament each year for the Special Olympics.

“She’s proud of herself, and she’s not too shy about anything,” Brad Simon said.

Aside from a trip to Baja California, the 6,400-mile journey will be Simon’s first time abroad and is a unique opportunity for cultural exchange.

“The athletics are important, but the idea of athletics in the Special Olympics is that everybody enjoys themselves, they try their best,” Brad Simon said. “And so that sort of spirit about having people from different countries work together in that same goal is sort of the idea of ‘we’re really not that different, guys’.”

Though she has yet to receive her itinerary, Simon said she hopes to compete in the pool during her week in China.

She already races the breaststroke, freestyle and backstroke, and in the summer of 2010, she competed at the U.S. National Games in the breaststroke.

Simon said she trains three days a week, and is working on improving her butterfly, the only swimming stroke she’s yet to master.

“I want to see if I can learn some Chinese before I go and experience their culture and see what it’s like,” she said.

Despite all the personal initiative required to take on all the Special Olympics roles she has had, Simon credits her becoming a successful person and public speaker to her family and those who have guided her along her journey.

“I’m looking forward to new experiences,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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