One Woman’s Vision
Eunice Mary Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA, on 10 July 1921, the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a sister, Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. She and Rosemary grew up playing sports together and with their family. The sisters swam, they sailed, they skiied, they played football together. But in those days, there were limited programs and options for someone like Rosemary. Eunice Kennedy Shriver went on to become an athlete in college. She began to see that sports could be a common ground to unite people from all walks of life. She saw people with intellectual disabilities were excluded and routinely placed in custodial institutions. They were often ignored and neglected, yet she knew they had many talents and gifts to offer.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else, they could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible. She put that vision into action in 1962 by inviting young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp she hosted in her backyard. She called it "Camp Shriver." The goal was to explore the children's skills in a variety of sports and physical activities. The idea behind that first Camp Shriver began to grow. In July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, USA. In her remarks at the Opening Ceremony, she said the inaugural Chicago Special Olympics prove "a very fundamental fact” - that children with intellectual disabilities can be exceptional athletes and that "through sports they can realize their potential for growth.” She pledged that this new organization, Special Olympics, would offer people with intellectual disabilities everywhere “the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow.” She told the athletes: "In ancient Rome, the gladiators went into the arena with these words on their lips: 'Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.' Let us begin the Olympics." What began as one woman's vision evolved into Special Olympics International -a global movement that today serves more than 4.7 million people with intellectual disabilities in 190 countries.
Today Special Olympics is the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to 5 million athletes and Unified Sports partners in 172 countries. Special Olympics competitions are held every day, all around the world—including local, national and regional competitions, adding up to more than 100,000 events a year. Like the International Paralympic Committee, the Special Olympics organization is recognized by the International Olympic Committee. The Special Olympics World Games is a major event put on by the Special Olympics. The World Games alternate between summer and winter games, in two-year cycles, recurring every fourth year.
The most recent World Summer Games were held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (The largest event in Special Olympics World Games history), from March 14 to 21 2019. This was the first Special Olympics World Games to be held in the Middle East. The next World Summer Games will be held in Berlin, Germany in 2023. This will be the first time that Germany has ever hosted the Special Olympics World Games.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver was and forever will be the role model of solidarity, hard-work, tolerance and acceptance, the greatest example how one woman’s vision can change millions of lives. Her legacy will live forever.
I was volunteering at the Special Olympics World Games 2019 in Abu Dhabi. At these Olympics were competing 7500 athletes from 190 countries in 24 sport disciplines, 20 000 volunteers were helping and 500 000 spectators were cheering the athletes up. This great atmosphere of support, solidarity, diversity and unity were with us during all the Games.
I invite you to read more about the Special Olympics, to participate, to volunteer and to join the Special Olympics Movement. You can find the center of Special Olympics or its division almost in every city, region, country and continent. You can event start coaching! At the Special Olympics World Games I saw athletes with mental dissabilities 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. I invite you to join this movement and become a part of it, because being once a part of the Special Olympics – you’ll be a part of it forever and it will stay in your heart forever.