A talk with athlete Melissa Reilly and Olympic Figure Skater Michelle Kwan

On Tuesday April 2nd, Harvard Law School Project on Disability hosted a conversation with two decorated athletes, Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan and Special Olympics Massachusetts athlete Melissa Joy Reilly. The two spoke in front of a full lecture hall of students, faculty and community members, moderated by Professor William P. Alford, Chair of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability and Vice Chair of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors.

Michelle Kwan is the most-decorated skater in U.S. Figure Skating history, having won two Olympic medals, five World titles and nine U.S. titles. She’s a Special Olympics Ambassador, member of the Committee of 100 and a member of both the US and World Skating Halls of Fame.

She shared her story of working hard to get where she is. From a time when her mom was sewing her costumes and she was wearing second-hand boots, to having her costumes designed by Vera Wang. Michelle explained that her parents worked very hard to help her succeed and on days she wasn’t giving it her all they made it clear that it was up to her to work hard and succeed. She had dreamed about going to the Olympics since she was a kid and when it finally happened she wasn’t surprised because she had worked so hard for it and was glad it was all paying off.

Nowadays Michelle Kwan serves as Treasurer on the Special Olympics International Board of Directors and is an advocate for inclusion. She most recently traveled to Abu Dhabi for 2019 Special Olympics World Games and shared stories of athletes she met there.

Melissa Reilly is a Special Olympics athlete who competes in Alpine Skiing, representing the US at World Games in Japan and South Korea. She’s a Special Olympics Massachusetts Board Member, Global Messenger and was inducted into the Special Olympics Hall of Fame in 2010. She first became involved with Special Olympics at 10 years old on a swim team. Melissa later heard about a local Special Olympics ski team and started racing.

Melissa’s advice to the crowd was to “Never give up and just go for it!” Sometimes she has butterflies in her stomach when in the starting gate, but she know she just has to go for it. Michelle agreed that she felt the same way before skating and Prof. Alford said he has a colleague who says he gets butterflies before every lecture, but he knows that means it matters. The three told the audience to do something that scares you and never get complacent.

The audience had questions about achieving goals. Many also wanted to learn more about getting involved with Special Olympics to spread the word about the incredible athletes around the world.

After the conversation Michelle and Melissa took pictures with fans and signed autographs.

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