Ex-Gymnast Bart Conner on Special Olympics Shaping his Perspective on Athletes

On the 155th episode of Listen In With KNN on Fox Sports 1340AM, host Kelsey Nicole Nelson welcomed Special Olympics Board member and retired Olympic gymnast Bart Conner to the show. 

Speaking of his gymnastic career, he was a USA Champion, NCAA Champion, Pan-American Games Champion, World Champion, World Cup Champion and Olympic Champion. Conner enjoyed the beauty of his journey that came with all the accolades.

“When you’re growing up, you are trying to figure out what your values are. As a young athlete, my life was quite simple as I trained to see if I can be a champion in gymnastics and accomplished those things. I’m enormously grateful that I had some measurable success that an outsider could see,” he said.

In addition to his athletic career, Conner has his own Gymnastics Academy in Norman, Oklahoma where he has been the owner for over 30 years and has almost 1,000 students in the program. It’s been an opportunity to teach the kids to be resilient as a gymnast. 

“It takes years before you get to the point where you can do anything respectable in the sport. This is the perfect place to learn all the important values about resilience, hard work and determination that we see as adults are important to teach our children. The beauty of gymnastics is it takes a long time to get good in the sport and you have to have that focus and be willing to take small incremental progress,” Conner said.

Also, he has been involved with Special Olympics for over 40 years and is a member of the Board of Directors. When he first started with the organization, Conner taught gymnastics in a Special Olympics clinic of six athletics. It was the most life changing experience for him because it changed how he thought about human potential in everybody.

“The look of pure joy and the sense of accomplishment that somebody gave them an opportunity to have that experience changed my whole perspective of the world. Athletes with intellectual disabilities are no different than any of us. That’s the catalyst for all the change because once you’re playing sports with someone who might have a different intellectual ability than you do, you’ll think they’re just like me,” he said. “It’s a simple barrier breaking experience.

Special Olympics has been a movement of inclusion with over six million athletes participating in 190 different countries and territories playing, challenging, celebrating and connecting with each other on a strong level.

“What I’ve been a big advocate for is we also need to show the excellence that some of our athletes can demonstrate. Life is going to be hard and we’re gonna help you experience as much success as you can but you got to do your part. Everybody deserves an opportunity to experience the joy of their hard work paying off,” Conner said.

As a result of their success on the field, Special Olympics have been giving athletes opportunities over the years in leadership positions.

“Every Board is encouraged to have Special Olympics athletes on their Boards. Their gifts are the ones that are the most cherished. Many times, their perspective is more valuable than ours.”


Tadi Abedje
My name is Tadi Abedje and Journalism has been my number one passion since I was a kid, especially as it pertains to sports. I love, eat, drink and sleep sports. I got my Bachelor of Arts degree in communication with a concentration in journalism from George Mason University in May 2017. As a writer and reporter, I understand the media landscape, how to cultivate relationships with sources, and how to produce thoughtful and engaging content. I am highly motivated, adaptable, social-media savvy multi-media journalist, reporter, writer, producer and editor who produces, narrates, writes and edits my own stories.