2024 Featured Artist Layla Crehan

Hello! My name is Layla, I’m an athlete, advocate, actor, artist, philanthropist and I’m autistic with anxiety disorder. My dream is to be a beacon of hope for others facing similar challenges. Art has been my lifeline, my sanctuary. I have been using art to express myself and to help calm my anxiety for all of my life! I paint, draw, sculpt, bead, craft, sew and wood burn. I’ve taught myself everything I know about art, yet I look forward to the day I find a mentor to guide me further. I often use my art to raise money for charities involving the additional needs community! When I’m not honing my craft, I can usually be found outside! I love to be in the fresh air, being very active; I also love the ocean and all of the creatures in it! For those reasons I spend most of my free time competing in water sports! A goal of mine is to traverse the globe, capturing my adventures in a book through my art.

You can follow Layla at her Instagram profile @paddlequeenlayla & her Facebook profile at Dancing Red Panda. You can purchase Layla’s artwork at Larimart Gallery.

Layla Teaching Tim Tebow

Surfing

“What was so special about Layla, two things come to mind,” Tebow said. “Number one is how sweet she is, and number two would be her patience. She is so at peace with who she is and confident … That and patience are two things that are so contagious, and I think that she radiates that.” from ESPN article by Kaila Burns-Heffner

SPORTS

My mother searched for years to find someone to teach my brother and I how to swim, but we were turned away because we’re autistic. When I was five years old, my mom finally found the Baby Otter Swim School and Indiana and I learned to swim in five days! When I was 10, I joined the Special Olympics swim team and my love for water turned into a love for competition and pushing myself to be better and better. I find the water to be very relaxing, even when I’m working hard and it makes my anxiety settle down. I have been swimming with SO for 10 years this summer and it really started everything! I now compete in seven sports with Special Olympics Florida: Swimming, Open Water Swimming, Standup Paddle Boarding, Surfing, Volleyball, Basketball and Alpine Skiing! SO is more than sports to me, my coaches and my teammates are my family! I am not only an athlete, I am also an Athlete Leader, Health Messenger and training this year to be a SUP Coach! In the future I hope to become a Global Messenger! My dream is to one day work for Special Olympics! Outside of Special Olympics, I also have been ocean and river racing SUPs for 7 years and outrigger canoes for 3 years! I race with a team in Miami called the Florida Paddling Hui and dream of racing with them in the waters of Tennessee, California, Washington and Hawaii some day!

ADVOCACY

Capital HillAdvocacy has been very important to me for a very long time! I have spoken in elementary schools, middle schools and even Nova Southeastern University, about the importance of inclusion for the special needs community…inclusion in all things! I was lucky enough in February 2023 to be chosen by Special Olympics Florida to represent the state in Washington D.C. on Capitol Hill Day to help them secure funding for SO for Unified Champion Schools all over the state and for inclusive health programs. I spoke with 13 congresspersons over two days and it was amazing! I am an anti-bullying advocate, and also a National Ambassador for the Baby Otter Swim School. My goal is to help them to make Florida a zero drowning state and to end bullying forever in schools!

Out On The Water

CROSSING FOR CYSTIC FIBROSIS

In 2021, I set out on my greatest adventure so far! At 16 years old, I was the youngest person to ever attempt the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, an 80-mile paddle race from Bimini, Bahamas, to Lake Worth Beach, Florida! The money raised leading up to the paddle goes to Piper’s Angels Foundation, a group of amazing humans who use the money to help those living with CF who need financial assistance. Due to very intense conditions, most of us didn’t make the 80 miles, but I spent three hours battling the waves in the night and those three hours are very precious to me. They represent my hard work and the reason why I attempted the crossing…my friend Hannah who lives with CF every day! I had a dream to be a part of the event and my dream came true. I had a plan to finish, but the sea had other plans for me. The crossing taught me so many things, but I think the most important to me is that you can work so hard and do everything to prepare and still not reach your goal…and that’s okay. It took me two years to learn that lesson, but I have finally made peace with it. And now I have decided that I’ll be attempting the crossing again in June of 2025! I will be posting all of my updates and preparation for the crossing and my sports on Instagram! #nevergiveup #ICanAndIWill #Limitless #Unstoppable

A Few Of Layla’s Accomplishments

TalentHere are a few of Layla’s accomplishments: Baby Otter Swim School Ambassador, Puakea Ambassador, Miss Arc Broward 2020, Special Olympian Athlete Leader, Autism Advocate, 2020 Junior Olympic SUP Gold Medal Champion, 2020 Sunshine State SUP Gold Medal Champion, Celebration of Creation Judge’s Choice for 2023 9-12 Grade Layla And PaintingCategory with “Great Horned Beauty” with her brother Indiana with “Love Blooms” & 2024 Adult Category with “Autumn Waterfall”, & Additional Needs, Inc. Featured Artist for 2024.

Some people who have helped me and my brother find our way and who continue to help the additional needs community!