FROM SWIMMER TO GLOBAL MESSENGER AND ACTOR, SPECIAL OLYMPICS ATHLETE CALEY
VERSFELT BEGINS HER SECOND ACT.
Since 1968 this Special Olympics athlete oath—introduced by Eunice
Kennedy Shriver (founder of Special Olympics and sister of President John
F. Kennedy) at the first-ever International Special Olympics Games—has
inspired millions of people around the world.
Special Olympics has enriched the life of 24-year-old Caley Versfelt of
Manhattan Beach in ways she couldn’t have imagined. She’s
more confident, more outgoing and always up for a challenge as a result.
She’s coined her own motto too: “Dream big and never give
The athlete took home her first medal—in swimming—at her first
Games when she was just 9 years old. Since then, she has competed and
medaled at numerous Special Olympics Summer Games at California State
University, Long Beach—the location of one of two annual championships
for athletes in the region. And during this past year she’s been
involved in something even bigger: preparation for the much-anticipated
Special Olympics World Games, hosted by the city of Los Angeles and taking
place July 25 through August 2.
Versfelt was appointed a World Games Global Messenger for this year’s
Games, and as a result she has spoken at several events throughout Southern
California. She’s also been busy working as a receptionist in the
bustling downtown Los Angeles headquarters office of the LA 2015 World
Games Organizing Committee, where she says the atmosphere is especially
exciting these days.
“It’s busy—there are about 200 people working here,”
she says. “We are getting a lot of phone calls right now. But it’s
It’s not surprising that things are heating up in the office. Some
7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 countries, as well as
upwards of 30,000 volunteers and an estimated 500,000 spectators, will
be in Los Angeles for the Games—making this the largest sports and
humanitarian event hosted in the world this year, and the biggest event
in Los Angeles since the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.
In the three days leading up to the Games, July 21-24, 2015, the Beach
Cities of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and El Segundo
will be among many Los Angeles communities serving as Host Towns—welcoming,
hosting and celebrating athletes from countries around the globe. Visiting
athletes and their families will participate in events with community
members, take part in local activities, and continue to train and prepare
for the Games.
Versfelt said she’s looking forward to meeting the delegates from
Nepal and Hungary, who will be hosted by her hometown of Manhattan Beach.
What can we do, as residents in the Host Towns, to make the athletes who
will be here feel most welcome?
Caley Versfelt (CV): Take the time to get to know an athlete. Talk to us
directly, not through someone we are with. A smile goes a long way. Make
eye contact. Be patient and kind. Ask us to repeat ourselves if you don’t
understand what we are saying. Be genuine. Treat us like you would want
to be treated. Treat us age-appropriately.
Describe the thrill and excitement of participating in Special Olympics
and of winning a medal.
CV: It’s fun! I always feel honored to participate, and it feels
great to get a medal doing something you love to do.
It’s probably safe to say that Special Olympics will always have
a special place in your heart.
CV: Yes. Some of my most favorite memories are of competing at the Special
Olympics competitions. And I’ve learned a lot working at the World
Games. Special Olympics makes me a better me and you a better you.
Speaking of making you a better you, who inspires you and why?
CV: My dad. He is my best friend and my #1. That’s how I really got
into this— my dad was on a swim team, and that got me interested.
I overcame my fears and just started swimming.
Describe your fitness routine these days.
CV: One of my favorite things to do is to walk. I like to walk on The Strand
from my house in Manhattan Beach to Hermosa Beach every day. It’s
something I like to do with my friends. Also, my Special Olympics swim
team practices once a week—every Sunday—at The Plunge in Torrance.
And in the summer I like to kneeboard and ride the inner tube behind my
Now that we’ve talked about staying in shape, what are some of your
favorite places to enjoy good food in our area?
CV: Some of my favorites are Wahoo’s, The Kettle and picnicking on
the beach with my friends.
What are some of your other hobbies?
CV: I love my acting class on Saturdays with Born to Act Players, plus
I like singing, dancing, nature photography and writing songs.
It sounds like the performing arts are a big part of your life.
CV: Yes, definitely. My goal is to continue acting—I have been interested
in theater since high school. I have done local theater in El Segundo,
and at UCLA. I was in
How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. I have been an extra on [the FOX TV show]
Glee and on
Guest Room, which hasn’t been released yet. I had a speaking part in a feature film,
Secret of My Success. I also like doing improvisation with my friends.
What part has Special Olympics played in your life, beyond the athletics?
How has it carried over into other aspects of your life?
CV: Special Olympics has helped me physically, personally and professionally.
Physically, I’ve perfected my swimming strokes and gotten stronger.
Personally, I’ve made a lot of friends at swimming and at Special
Olympics events. Professionally, I have gained selfconfidence, overcome
shyness and learned public speaking skills. I used to be shy, but now
look at me!