“I am because we are.”

Linnéa Björndahl, Special Olympics Sweden

“I am because we are.”

Thanks to Funkisfonden (the Special Athletes Fund) 2019 and Sigma’s role as main sponsor of Special Olympics Sweden since 2020, Linnéa Björndahl has become a familiar face. Linnéa is the national director of Special Olympics Sweden, now part of the Swedish Parasport Federation.

Everyone who meets Linnéa is immediately struck by her energy and drive. Her knowledge and experience of sport and activity for people with intellectual disabilities is also striking. She is extremely knowledgeable about and aware of the work required to create an inclusive society, as well as how important it is for people with an intellectual disability to remain active and to be part of a context. And given that Linnéa likes nothing better than making sure everyone one else is fine, she is certainly the right person in the right place. However, it was her youthful fascination with other cultures and peoples that inspired her dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. She had intended to study journalism but soon found another path and in 2009 she graduated with a degree in communication studies from Södertörn University.

“I’ve always been active and started early as a fitness instructor, and after graduation I had the privilege of being able to combine my interest in travel, training and working with people,” says Linnéa, looking back on the period after her graduation.

After a few years working as a fitness instructor and tour guide on activity holidays, she applied successfully for a global internship with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) in South Africa. This was an opportunity to gain an entirely new perspective on life and the world during a period that shaped Linnéa into the person she is today.

“I’ve taken so many experiences with me from my time in South Africa. The deepest impression was made by the Zulu term ubuntu, which roughly translated means ‘I am because we are’, a philosophy that emphasises the importance of community and human interdependence. That we are all interconnected and that our welfare and success depend on caring for and supporting one another,” says Linnéa when asked what made the greatest impression on her during her time working for Sida in South Africa.

It was while in South Africa that Linnéa saw the job advertisement placed by the Swedish Parasport Federation and Special Olympics Sweden, seeking someone to manage a project to get more people active.

She was hired and soon found herself responsible for developing Special Olympics School Days, events at which pupils attending schools for children with intellectual disabilities can meet local sports clubs and try different sports. The fact that the initiative was turning into something of an uphill battle only increased Linnéa’s determination to make it succeed. Instead of the planned 30 days, Linnéa and her team implemented 52 Special Olympics School Days. Their success provided Sweden with significantly more para-athletes.

As national director, Linnéa’s current role is more overarching; in addition to arranging major sporting events, it also involves other aspects of athletes’ lives away from the track, field or arena.

“I start the day by waking the family and making coffee, then I go to work out. After that, I’m ready to face the day, which often consists of a bunch of local, regional, national and international meetings,” says Linnéa of an average day at work.

I start the day by waking the family and making coffee, then I go to work out. After that, I’m ready to face the day…

– Linnéa Björndahl

Linnéa enjoys combining working on her own and in the larger groups needed when it comes to arranging major sporting events. And arranging major and more inclusive events for athletes with intellectual disabilities – and becoming outstandingly good at doing so – is one of Linnéa’s goals for herself and Special Olympics Sweden going forward.

“Another goal is to increase awareness of Special Olympics Sweden, our brand and activities and the good we do, so we can attract more major partners such as Sigma,” says Linnéa.

One recurring theme when discussing the future with Linnéa is her desire to do work that changes people’s lives for the better. She is passionate about other people’s wellbeing and, during her time with the organisation, she has seen many examples of how good activity and movement can improve the everyday lives of people with intellectual disabilities. These good examples inspire her to keep working, and to work even harder, on these vital issues. Work that truly demonstrates that our welfare and success are dependent on caring about and supporting one another.

Special Olympics Sweden

Special Olympics Sweden is part of the Swedish Parasport Federation and we offer a wide range of sports and recreational…