Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for adults and children with intellectual disabilities. It was founded in 1962 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Shriver became concerned that children with intellectual disabilities had nowhere to play, so she started a day camp for them at her home in Potomac, Maryland. She chose to focus on what they could do, instead of what they could not do. Shriver also sat on President Kennedy’s White House panel for individuals with intellectual disabilities and acted as the director of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Over the years, her passion and dedication were transformed into today’s Special Olympics.
The History of Special Olympics
The first Special Olympics Games were held in the summer of 1968 in Chicago, Illinois. They hosted one thousand individuals from the United States and Canada, who participated in track and field and swimming events. The first Special Olympics Winter Games were held in 1977, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In 1988, the International Olympic Committee formally recognized and endorsed the Special Olympics, one of two organizations in the United States authorized to use the name “Olympics.” The first international Special Olympics, the 5th Special Olympics World Winter Games, was held in Salzburg and Schladming, Austria in 1993. The first Summer World Games were held in Ireland in 2003, which was the world’s largest sporting event of that year – 5,500 athletes participated. In 2004, President George W. Bush signed the Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act, which gave Special Olympics programs $15 million each year for five years. 2006 saw Special Olympics worldwide participant numbers exceed 2.5 million! Two years later, in 2008, Special Olympics celebrated its 40th anniversary and more than 3 million participants. In only four years, another million participants joined the Special Olympics movement, bringing the total to 4 million in 2012.
Why Special Olympics?
Special Olympics offers programs and support to athletes around the world, free of charge. Athletes of all ability levels are encouraged to participate in Special Olympics events. The programs offered by Special Olympics provide physical, emotional, and psychological benefits to participants. Athletes strengthen their bodies and minds by participating in Special Olympics. The sports and activities lower rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease among participants, encourage self-confidence and good self-esteem, and strengthen social competencies. The personal enrichment provided by participation in Special Olympics is valuable on so many levels. Although each athlete’s reason for participating in Special Olympics is different, many athletes are united by common goals within the program.
How can I get involved?
There are many ways to help out with Special Olympics, ranging from low- to high-involvement. Attending Special Olympics events and encouraging participants is a great place to start. Others may choose to sponsor an athlete or make donations to the organization at large. For someone looking to for more in-depth involvement, why not try volunteering at an event, or even signing up to be a coach? Coaches and volunteers make lifelong memories at Special Olympics events that you can’t find anywhere else. While helping train these athletes, you may learn something about yourself along the way.
This post was written by a guest contributor for Global Lift Corp., the lead manufacturers of ADA-compliant aquatic access equipment.