Jeanne DeCarlo has won more than 120 medals during her prolific career as a Special Olympian, but none are more memorable or meaningful as the gold medal she recently earned as a member of Team USA at the World Games in Athens, Greece.

DeCarlo, who took gold as part of the USA 4 x 50-meter freestyle relay team, also won a bronze medal (third place) in the 100-meter freestyle and finished fourth in the 50-meter freestyle.

“The World Games were fabulous,” she said. “We won first place in my last race, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. My family and friends cheered me on [in Athens], and I know a lot of people supported me back home. I just want to thank everybody for their support.”

The Special Olympians trained briefly on the island of Rhodes, Greece in the eastern Aegean Sea. After their mini-training camp, Team USA took a 12-hour ferry ride to Athens for the June 25th Opening Ceremonies.

Ten DeCarlo family members and friends traveled to Athens to support and reunite with Jeanne. After three days of individual events competition, DeCarlo spent a day relaxing with her family in Athens. She enjoyed the day off, swimming in the hotel’s spectacular rooftop pool where the Acropolis was within eyesight. Other than those family moments together, DeCarlo spent most of her time at the OACA Olympic Center, site of the 2004 Summer Olympics.  

“Jeanne swam in the same pool as the 2004 Olympians, which was pretty cool,” said Sheri DeCarlo, Jeanne’s mother. “I thought the opening and closing ceremonies were wonderful. The volunteers bent over backwards to care for Jeanne’s needs. The Special Olympics isn’t about politics or ethnicities; it’s about all the athletes doing their best in a true spirit of sportsmanship.”

The only downside during DeCarlo’s stay in Greece was a two-day general strike, which broke out in Athens, disrupting several public services (notably transportation) and causing protesting and rioting in the streets.

“There was a lot of bad stuff going on in Greece,” DeCarlo said,” but I was really concentrating on what I had to do at the World Games. I felt very blessed to have the opportunity so I wanted to make the most of it.”

Aside from being honored as a gold medalist, DeCarlo made her mark at the World Games interacting with her fellow US athletes as well as those from around the world.

“All the athletes were given nicknames,” Sheri DeCarlo said. “Jeanne’s nickname was ‘The Ambassador’ because she was the epitome of good sportsmanship.”

In a show of international good will, DeCarlo estimates she exchanged about 60 pins with athletes from other countries.

“The pin exchange was fun,” said Jeane. “It was interesting getting to meet people from Israel, Brazil and other countries. I love swimming because it’s a way for me to achieve my goals. It’s really about giving my best effort.”