The Special Olympic World Games 2015 kick off today in Los Angeles, California. With 7,000 extraordinary athletes competing, it will be considered the largest sporting and humanitarian event on the planet this year. Special Olympics has come along way from it’s roots.
In the early 1960s, a now well-known woman named Eunice Kennedy Shriver began her fight to integrate people with intellectual disabilities into organized sports. The stereotypes of these individuals began to breakdown- they didn’t need to be locked away, isolated due to their limitations, they were not a danger to themselves and could participate, socialize, and even COMPETE with others.
Her fight began. Eunice and the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation worked with Dr. William Freeberg, chairman of the recreation and outdoor education department at Southern Illinois University to develop workshops focused on the fact that everyone, including people with disabilities, could benefit from recreation. A woman named Anne Burke, who was instructor with the Chicago Parks District sent a proposal to the Kennedy Foundation to hold a one-time citywide track meet in 1967 modeled after the Olympics. Eunice grabbed on to this idea and led the charge. She held summer day camps in her back yard in Chicago to study, watch, and coach individuals with disabilities through sport.
On July 20, 1968, Eunice opened the the “Chicago Special Olympics” and the “First International Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field in Chicago. It was a grand affair with over 1,000 individuals with disabilities competing in three sports: swimming, field hockey, and track and field. Before this movement, individuals with disabilities weren’t even being educated.
The change began.
Today, the Special Olympics World Games is said to be ‘the most inspirational event ever,’ reported by the USA Today.
“This will be the most inspirational event ever. That’s how big we’re shooting,” said Los Angeles World Games President and CEO Patrick McClenahan.
ESPN will provide live coverage of the Opening Ceremony along with nightly highlight reels. Stars and influential people will attend the events. Today’s Google Doodle honors the games.
We have come a long way. On a closer-to-home level, I have 2 children with autism.We are involved in sports and I know many athletes that compete in Special Olympics.
Rye Shade is one of those individuals.
Rye started swimming for Special Olympics in Columbia, MO when he was 8, three years after being diagnosed on the autism spectrum. He began swimming for the Mid-Missouri Crickets, one of two teams in Mid-Missouri. Rye’s favorite word: “Race.”
Through Special Olympics, Rye has learned to have fun, but be focused and competitive at the same time. He has grown closer to his brother, Wyatt, now a unified partner, a team member without developmental disabilities that helps the other members of the team. Wyatt swims part of the relay that Rye also swims.
Special Olympics has provided so much to Rye as well as the 4.5 million Special Olympic athletes that now come from more than 170 countries. For these athletes, they are seeing themselves for their abilities, not their limitations and disabilities.
Rye won’t be in LA this year competing- but I am pretty sure one day, he will be there, competing hard along side these wonderful people. We salute you all today!
For this mom, I am indebted to what Eunice began and what Special Olympics do for the millions of people LIVING (Strong!) with disabilities. Her vision and tenacity made the change for our children today.