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The Special Olympics
The Special Olympics offers opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to change their lives as well as those around the world. The Special Olympics has come from a thousand participants to three point seven million since 1962. It brings people with disabilities the opportunity to improve physically and emotionally through sports. For forty-nine years the Special Olympics has not only changed the lives of people with intellectual disabilities but changed the world’s attitude towards them. The program continues to change lives all around the world giving people hope and encouragement.
In the summer of 1962 Eunice Kennedy, sister of President John F. Kennedy, opened a camp for people with intellectual disabilities that would change the way to world looked at them forever. That summer a hundred children attended Eunice’s camp to compete in sports. Eunice knew that the doctors were wrong when they said that people that were mentally retarded should be locked in an institution and weren’t strong enough to participate in sports activities. Growing up Eunice watched her sister, Rosemary Kennedy, who was diagnosed with mental retardation, play sports and she became determined to prove the doctors wrong and that is just what she did when the first Special Olympics World Games was held at Soldier Field in Chicago Illinois in 1968. A thousand athletes from the United States and Canada competed for the first time. Despite the small number of fans and those who disapproved of Ms. Kennedy’s efforts, the camp she started on the J. P. Kennedy foundation would create a spark of hope for those with intellectual disabilities as well as their families. (Pinn)
The Special Olympics is open to all individuals with intellectual disabilities. Athletes can be anywhere from eight to ninety-nine. They are divided into divisions according the age and ability. They train for eight weeks with a volunteer coach from high school, college or professional athletes and then they compete. Since the Special Olympics has summer and winter games, the athlete can choose to train for one each season. It occurs every two years compared to the Olympics games that began in Athens, Greece. There are over 30 sports available including anywhere from bocce to basketball. Also available is the Motor Activity Training Program for athletes who aren’t physically able to compete (Pinn).
The Special Olympics games begin with the parade of athletes and then follow the Special Olympics oath, “Let me win But if I cannot win, let me be brave in attempt.” The next step in the process is the lighting of the cauldron with the Special Olympics Flame of Hope (Pinn). The athletes look forward to this process after they’ve spent eight weeks in training for their sport. They are ready to show their fans, family, coaches all that they have learned and how they have changed. The athletes of the Special Olympics have the power to change whole countries with their spirits and good attitudes just like they did in 2007. The Shanghai games were significant because that was the first time the world Olympics was joined with the Special Olympics. It was also an important even in the Special Olympics history because the leader of one the most powerful nations declared that they would no longer exclude individuals with intellectual disabilities (Special Olympics Movement Calls on World to Join River of Life.).
The Special Olympics has inspired other programs as well, such as Unified Sports that unites people with intellectual disabilities with those without them. It helps the athletes to see each other as equals instead of one being weaker or strange (Pinn). Blaze Sports clubs have also been initiated in communities around the United States. It is a competitive grassroots sport and physical fitness program made for children that have physical disabilities. It’s started when a community becomes committed to offering it and forms a committee of people to lead the program such as community leaders, disability advocates, athlete’s parents, elected officials, schools, and many others (McKenzie).
The Special Olympics relies on a lot of support from different people all around the world. Volunteers from local high school, colleges, and even professional athletes play a huge part in keeping it running. Volunteers can help with the training of the athletes or help prepare for the events. Families of the athletes also have a part in making the Special Olympics athletes succeed. Without the support and commitment of the families to the athletes it would be extremely difficult for them to stay in good physical condition and maintain hope and perseverance throughout their experience with the Special Olympics. The fans are also important. Without fans filling the stands to see these athletes compete the program would not have sparked that flame that shines on those with intellectual disabilities all around the world (www.specailolympics.org).
The goal of the Special Olympics has and always will be to change lives. The Special Olympics has changed the world and created a light that shines on those with intellectual disabilities so that they are no longer kept away in the dark rooms of institution and locked in houses. That light first began to illuminate when President John F. Kennedy released a magazine article announcing that Rosemary Kennedy, the sister of Eunice and him, had mental retardation. That magazine article gave families of those with intellectual disabilities the confidence to see their children in a whole new way and then it wasn’t so bad for them to have a child with disabilities (Pinn). The Special Olympics has broken down the pride of countries who have said they had no people with intellectual disabilities like Russia did and then they sent 190 athletes to Shanghai to participate (McCallum). The Special Olympics has created a global movement and united communities all over the world by making them pull together to raise funds for the athletes (Special Olympics Aims to Raise $5 Million for Athletes by 2012 Through Sallarulo's Race for Champions.).
The Special Olympics opens the eyes of the world to people with intellectual disabilities and will do so in South Korea and Los Angeles, California in the future. The games will be held in South Korea in 2013 and then will return to the United States after sixteen years for the summer games in Los Angeles California in 2015. The last games hosted in the United States were at Raleigh, North Carolina in 1999. The advisors at the Special Olympics feels that bringing it to a city as powerful as Los Angeles can bring widespread impact. They hope to draw half a million people to the games and over seven thousand athletes (LA to Host 2015 Special Olympics world summer Games.) (Los Angeles to Host 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games).
The goal of the Special Olympics still lives today as many athletes and communities submit their efforts and time into helping children with intellectual disabilities overcome the barriers that set them apart from the rest of the world. The Michael Phelps foundation joined as a Special Olympics Global Ambassador at the Shanghai games in 2007. He launched his swim school in 2010 and since then the club has expanded into fourteen states across the United States. Phelps and many other athletes and organizations have committed to helping these children build self confidence and build skills within sports (Michael Phelps becomes Specail Olympics). Communities are coming together to raise money and support the people in their area with intellectual disabilities such as South Florida. For the past six years Sallarulo’s Race for Champions has come together to support their local Special Olympics athletes with the five k run/walk. Previously raising three point seventeen million in funds they aim now to raise five million (Special Olympics Aims to Raise $5 Million for Athletes by 2012 Through Sallarulo's Race for Champions.). Communities such as this one work together to achieve their fund raising goals and change the lives of the people that live there in the process.
With over 190 people worldwide and seven and a half million just in the United States with intellectual disabilities the world’s population continues to grow rapidly. The Special Olympics wants to help these people to come out of their shells and show the world what they can do. Out the 190 people with it seven and a half million are bullied, beaten, unemployed, abused sexually, and ignored. The Special Olympics fights to improve these statistics. Some communities have over 40,000 people who are special needs and the Special Olympics wants to help these people (Pinn) (Special Olympics Aims to Raise $5 Million for Athletes by 2012 Through Sallarulo's Race for Champions.)
One might find it hard to believe that one woman began a program like the Special Olympics with her family’s funds and the inspiration of her sister. Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a spirit and a soul that was determined to bring change to a world that certainly had their doubts about people with intellectual disabilities. She and the athletes proved them wrong. They showed the world and continue to show the world that they are capable of participating and working in sports (Pinn). They’ve recreated a world that cares, one that has a passion and a heart for those that are different. They opened the eyes of the world to people not only with disabilities but those that are different in general.
After a lifetime of dedication to people with intellectual disabilities, Eunice Kennedy Shriver died in 2009 at the age of eighty-eight. She left the Special Olympics to her son Tim Shriver who now works to continue the movement his mother started in 1962. The movement Eunice sparked touched countries and people worldwide. When she first started many told her that she couldn’t do it, they told her that the athletes were at too much of a health risk and wouldn’t understand, but she knew better and proved them wrong. Her picture is the only one that hangs in the United States National Portrait Gallery that is not a president or a first lady. She will live on in the hearts of those the Special Olympics has changed. She will be missed but never forgotten (wwww.specialolympics.org).
Portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and some of the Special Olympics Athletes (Face to Face).
The Special Olympics has come a long way from 1962. It’s come from a thousand athletes to over three million (Pinn). It’s changed the ways of countries and opened the eyes of the people to see that they can do more than anyone ever imagined. These athletes are people who change the world every time they dribble a basket ball, complete a race, or make a goal. The Special Olympics makes athletes feel accepted among society and makes creates a place where they have a purpose instead of being locked in an institution. It makes an athlete work harder and develop skills that not only help them during the games but outside in real life. The Special Olympics was ranked number one on a list of high impact nonprofit organizations. Tim Shriver, son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, said, “It’s not an event, but a movement,” (www.specailolympics.org). That’s truly what the Special Olympics is. It isn’t just something that occurs every once in a while, it works everyday of every season, training athletes, raising money and hope. It creates not only a change in the lives of the Special Olympics athletes but a social change as well. The special Olympics continues to achieve its goal, one game, one person, one athlete, volunteer, family, country, town, and city, it touches everyone.