‘I can have the independence I want and need.’ Hearing technology company hosts Special Olympics athletes at Sunday’s Vikings game

Among those arriving for Sunday’s Vikings game were some very special guests.

“Starkey is the hearing help provider for Special Olympics International,” said Jake Spano, a Starkey Cares spokesperson. “We provide hearing aids for free to Special Olympics coaches and athletes all over the world.”

“We’re all athletes, whether you’re a Viking fan, player, or a Special Olympics athlete,” adds Nell Coonen-Korte, from Shakopee. “We’re just all players.”

About two-dozen Special Olympics athletes were guests of Starkey Cares, the social outreach program for the Eden Prairie-based hearing technology company.

“We fit over 100 athletes and coaches, already helping them get the help they deserve,” Spano noted.

On game-day Sunday, there were lots of cheers and smiles from the Starkey suite.

The group had front row seats, got to meet Victor the Viking, met with former Vikings players and Vikings cheerleaders, and even had an appearance on the Jumbotron.    

“We thought it would be really fun to bring some of these folks down here today to watch the game,” Spano smiles.

For these athletes, it was a chance to not just watch, but to hear the game as well.

“So that we can hear what refs are saying, we can hear what coaches are saying,” Coonen-Korte said. “We don’t need to ask people, ‘What did they say?'”

The Special Olympics athlete and health advocate — who will participate in the 2026 Special Olympics USA Games in the Twin Cities — has had hearing loss for 22 years.

Starkey recently fitted Coonen-Korte with brand-new hearing aids.

She says for her, they’re a game-changer, on and off the field.

A Sunday to celebrate a Vikings win, and an Independence Day for these athletes.

“I don’t need translators,” Coonen-Korte declared. “I don’t need to ask people what they said, and I can have the independence that I want and need.”