Special Olympics started out as one woman’s discontent. It has now been turned into a worldwide effort dedicated to giving those with intellectual disabilities a place to play and compete. In the 1960’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver became frustrated when she realized the lack of opportunities and unfair treatment being cast upon intellectually challenged children and adults. She not only wanted them to feel a part of the community, but to give them a place where they could focus on what they did well. The first glimpse of what Special Olympics would become was in her backyard in 1962. Shriver held a summer camp giving kids the chance to feel free and have fun. At camp they swam played sports and interacted with not only other campers but Shriver’s children as well. Tim Shriver says, "I was never introduced to disability or intellectual disability as a cause but more as an activity. Never as a burden, but rather as a joy. Our introduction to people with special needs was to swim or to play kickball or to go horseback riding. Part of her genius [has] always been to create things that are appealing, create opportunities that are joyful that people want to join, that make things fun." Not only were the children’s lives changed but those of the Shriver’s as well.
Seeing the impact and growth over the short summer weeks, Shriver helped to create the Special Olympics Summer Games. In 1968, the first official Special Olympics were held in Chicago. On July 20, Soldier Field was filled with 1,000 athletes from over 26 states. They competed in three events, swimming, track and field, and floor hockey. "The Chicago Special Olympics prove a very fundamental fact," Eunice said. "That exceptional children - children with mental retardation - can be exceptional athletes, the fact that through sports they can realize their potential for growth."
The growth in Special Olympics today is tremendous. Over 3.7 million athletes in over 170 countries come to compete in events year round. Shiver set out to rectify injustice, and accomplished so much on her journey. Her lists of awards are endless along with the programs, foundations, and event she pioneered. She was a woman with a big heart, ambition, and the passion to help those with disabilities.
On September 22, 2012 take a minute to remember this amazing woman and commemorate the third annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver (EKS) Day. In celebration of EKS Day, Special Olympics encourages each community, from every corner of the world, to engage in sports activities focused on inclusion. Embrace the spirit of Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day and “Play Unified to Live Unified.” Visit www.eunicekennedyshriver.org to learn about the life and impact of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. For more information on EKS Day, visit www.eksday.org
"Eunice Kennedy Shriver: One Woman's Vision." Eunice Kennedy Shriver: One Woman's Vision. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2012.
"Special Olympics." Special Olympics. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2012.