The Special Olympics Movement exists more than 50 years, changing lives of millions and millions of people with mental disabilities all around the world through sports. Probably many of you have never heard about it, so here I would like to share my experience of volunteering and working at this inspiring and emotional event.
It all started with Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was born in one of the most powerful families in the US. Her younger sister, Rosemary, had mental disabilities. The sisters were always together, training and doing sports, so Eunice noticed how positively sports impacted on Rosemary. Eunice later decided to organize the first Camp Shriver in 1962, where she invited young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer camp in her backyard. The movement started growing and in July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago. Nowadays the Special Olympics functions as the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities. It does year-round training and competitions to 5 million athletes and Unified Sports partners in 172 countries. Thanks to Eunice Kennedy, the Special Olympics organization was recognized by the International Olympic Committee. There are the Special Summer and Special Winter Olympics Games, which are held in two-year cycles, every fourth year.
I was so honored to volunteer and work at my first Special Olympics World Games 2019 in Abu as a Delegation Assistant Liaison. I was working directly with the delegations, the athletes at the venues, providing them administrative, logistics, language and general support 24 hours during the Pre-and Games time. Previously, I have never worked with the athletes with mental disabilities, it was my first experience, my perception was completely changed. No one called our athletes as people with disabilities, we called them the determined, as the people who are ready to compete and play a fair game in spite of all the challenges they already have in their lives. I have never seen the most concentrated, kind, friendly and open people as our athletes. This atmosphere of solidarity, diversity and unity was during all the Games time. 7500 athletes from 190 countries were competing in 24 sport disciplines. More than 20 000 volunteers from all over the world were helping. I met one volunteer from Switzerland who told me that he volunteers only for the Special Olympics and travels every time where the Special Olympics are held. This event was one of the biggest event in Special Olympics World Games history from March 14 to 21 2019, and the first Special Olympics World Games in the Middle East. The special song “Right where I am supposed to be” was written for this event and performed by Avril Lavigne, Luis Fonsi and the other famous singers at the Opening Ceremony. Every day of the Games was emotional and inspirational. The next Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in Berlin in 2023. This will be the first time that Germany has ever hosted the Special Olympics World Games.
I invite you to read more about the Special Olympics, participate and volunteer. At the Special Olympics World Games I saw athletes with mental disabilities competing so professionally and showing such the amazing sports results, being at the same time very humble, kind and very grateful. And I wanted to say that we are not that different. We are not that different. We must break all stereotypes and barriers about people with mental disabilities. Because it's a human thing and it's an act of solidarity and tolerance. It’s life-changing. Being once a part of the Special Olympics – you’ll be a part of it and it will stay in your heart forever as well as Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s legacy.