Hanna Atkinson wears many hats: Olive Garden team member. Special Olympics Colorado skier and cyclist. Award-winning journalist. Public speaker. Trailblazer for inclusion of people of all abilities.
Last month, her oratory skills swept her and her parents off to Paris where she spoke at the Laureus Sport for Good Global Summit on behalf of the Special Olympics. “I’ve dreamed about going to Paris since I was a little girl, and now it’s come true,” Hanna said.
The summit is an offshoot of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, a European nonprofit that supports sports-based projects around the world, including the Special Olympics, through grants. Hanna took the stage Oct. 17 to speak about the importance of inclusion in athletics for people of all abilities. She wrote her own speech. “I pour my heart and soul into my speeches, and my parents help me edit my originality,” she said.
After the summit, Hanna, her mom, Colette, and her father, Tim, had four days to sightsee. "The Eiffel Tower took my breath away," Hanna said.
Hanna is an inspiration close to home as well as across the world, said Mimi Shora, the general manager at the Olive Garden restaurant in Littleton, CO, where Hanna has worked for three years.
“Hanna is popular with everyone from team members to guests,” Mimi said. “She receives many compliments and can put a smile on anyone's face, especially if they are having a bad day. She takes her host position very seriously, and we are so proud of her many accomplishments.”
Hanna Wins Emmy Award
Since we profiled Hanna in 2016 while she reported on Special Olympics Colorado for a Denver television station, she has gathered even more accolades. For starters, she and co-host Connor Long won Heartland Chapter Emmy Awards in 2017 for their reporting in the segment “More Alike Than Different” at KMGH-TV (Denver7).
She transitioned from television reporting into a new online opportunity at Channel Kindness, where she and Connor were chosen to write about acts of kindness in their community. Channel Kindness is an online platform of singer Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. Hanna has written four stories so far.
Latest Honor: Special Olympics Global Messenger
Hanna has given speeches to groups and schools on behalf of Special Olympics Colorado as a “health messenger,” for which she received training in health and fitness. Last month, she was chosen for a new honor — she will represent the Special Olympics on a global scale as a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger for the next four years.
She also has traveled twice to Washington, DC, to speak to Colorado legislators about the importance of the Special Olympics. At 23, she has been an athlete on their skiing and cycling teams for a decade. She also competes in triathlons and climbs mountains.
She has overcome many obstacles — not only was she born with Down syndrome, she suffered from leukemia when she was 2. Her brother, Jeff, one of her three siblings, died in a skiing accident in New Zealand in 2015. But she’s unfailingly optimistic about her life: “I can’t complain. I’m very thankful for my family.”
'Olive Garden Job Means Everything'
Hanna excels at Olive Garden, too, and enjoys the work. “My job means everything to me," she said. "I know what’s required of me and understand my responsibilities. The people are great, and they are like family to me.”
The restaurant team surprised her with a party before she left for Paris, complete with balloons, flowers, her favorite chocolate cake, congratulatory cards and gifts. “We have never seen Hanna so surprised — her cheeks were so pink, her bright smile ear to ear, her eyes so big,” Mimi said. “I was bursting with joy," Hanna said.
She has yet another achievement in her sights. “I am becoming an entrepreneur,” she said. Her business, Wholeheartedly Hanna, will be dedicated to her late brother and focused on public speaking opportunities as well as nutrition and fitness. She is working on a cookbook and has ideas for some exercise videos.
“All those things take a level of commitment we have not been able to find yet because she’s so busy,” her mom said.
Hanna agreed. “Everything takes time, but it’s all fun. It’s the best life I can ever imagine.”