Lizzie Enriquez-Ortiz’ self-confidence takes flight

Lizzie Enriquez-Ortiz walks tall and talks big. And she backs it up. She’s now a 2-time gold medalist and a silver medalist at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. Her self-confidence is evident, and it’s impossible to listen to her and have any doubt that she’ll achieve whatever she sets her mind to.

Lizzie posing in front of a backdrop featuring herself

In an interview with Lizzie back in March, she said she was going to get a gold medal. And in July, after crossing the finish line first in her final event of the Games, she was all smiles. “I said I would do it, and I did it,” she declared with confidence.

Lizzie’s self-assurance is one of the reasons she was featured in Kaiser Permanente’s “Rise and Thrive” campaign in support of the USA Games. Her larger-than-life likeness was on trains and buildings, in the University of Washington light rail station, in printed pieces, on social media, and on our website for the Games (kp.org/specialolympics). The Kaiser Permanente member loved the experience and the attention. “When I qualify for the next USA Games in my other powerhouse sport, which is swimming, maybe you guys will do another photo shoot of me,” she said hopefully.

A tough start turns golden

Lizzie got off to a rocky start at the Games. She finished second in her individual 800-meter run, but was disqualified due to an illegal lane change. Though upset about that outcome, she rebounded the next day when she threw the mini javelin 11.85 meters (almost 39 feet), and finished in the top spot in her division after another competitor was disqualified.

Lizzie Enriquez-Ortiz throwing the mini javelin for a gold medal

On Thursday, it was all smooth sailing. She and her 4×100 relay teammates — Team Washington’s Maya Frink, Allison Shimabukuro, and Samuel Quezada — had solid baton passes, fast feet, and pushed the frontrunners until the end. They ran away happy with a second-place finish and looked forward to receiving their silver medals.

About her 3 medals, Lizzie said, “It’s wonderful. I just made Washington state very proud. They were proud of me already, even before my events, and I just made Washington even prouder. My parents are very proud of me too, and I’m very proud of myself.”

A full week of memories

“Getting a gold medal in the 400, another gold in the mini javelin, and the silver for the relay. Those are my favorite moments,” Lizzie said. “The entire Opening Ceremony is another favorite. I liked walking into a big stadium, feeling that the world is watching — that the eyes of the world are on me and all of my teammates and all the delegations of the other 49 states.”

She enjoyed staying in the UW dorms, spending time with her teammates, and meeting new people. “I’ve made new friends…from all over. They’re all very nice and we’re all very supportive of each other.”

Lizzie also took advantage of the free health screenings and health care that were available to every athlete during the Games. The Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program was organized and run by Kaiser Permanente and it covered 7 health disciplines. Lizzie learned that she’s in “really good health.” She said, “It’s important to be healthy because when you’re not healthy you don’t perform at your best.”

Early on, Lizzie had dedicated her competitive performances at the Games to the victims and families of 4 specific air disasters. She’s an aviation enthusiast and combining the 2 things she loves — her sport and her love of planes and flight — was another shining moment for her at the Games. “It feels wonderful to honor the lives that were lost.”

Lizzie has her sights set on the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi and the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando. We bet you’ll catch her on planes to those locales with a smile on her face and dreams of gold in her heart.