Special Olympics is unfortunately not a well-known competition, even though it’s the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults living with intellectual and physical disabilities. It provides year-round training and activities to more than 5 million members in 172 countries. Special Olympics has competitions that are held every day on local, national and regional levels (more than 100,00 events a year). The Special Olympics organization is recognized by the International Olympic Committee but Special Olympic World Games are not held in the same year as the Olympic Games (unlike the Paralympic Games).
What was once just a summer camp for kids and adults with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics of today are a global movement that has been changing millions of lives for over 50 years. Let’s learn more about this great event and its interesting history:
It all started in June 1963 when Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded a camp for children with intellectual and physical disabilities in Maryland. This camp has a goal to help disabled kids and allow them to participate in sporting events. With Camp Shriver that paved the way for others, Eunice promoted the concept that people with disabilities require the same physical involvement and other opportunities in life. In time, Camp Shriver became an annual event, and the Kennedy Foundations started providing funds for universities, sports centers and community centers to organize their own camps and events.
On July 20, 1968, Soldier Field in Chicago was the first home of the Special Olympic Games where around 1,000 athletes from the States and Canada competed the entire day. This was a joint effort by the Kennedy Foundation and the Chicago Park District.
The 70s brought new happenings to the Special Olympics. In May 1970, Parsons State Hospital and Training Center held the first Kansas Special Olympics for 300 athletes. A year later, finally, Special Olympics were officially approved as an organization authorized to carry the Olympic name in the USA. In 1977, the first International Special Olympics Winter Games were held in Colorado. The games had more than 500 athletes competing in skiing and skating. By the end of the 70s, due to the huge growth of the organization, the Special Olympics Kansas was allowed to stand alone, and the organization became a non-profit body.
In the 80s, one significant event for the Special Olympics was The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) in Kansas where Police Chief Richard LaMunyon started to collect funds for Special Olympics and raising awareness. The LETR is now one of the biggest fundraisers for the event, raising millions every year.
After Special Olympics World Summer Games debuted in 1995, Healthy Athletes became an official initiative of the organization and started providing health services to athletes living with disabilities all over the world. Other initiatives also make their debut in the 90s, including the Host Town Program and Research and Policy Symposia, and people with disabilities serve as game officials for the first time.
The new millennia brought many new advancements to Special Olympics and the first ones held outside of the US (Ireland, 2003). Just a year later, George W. Bush signed an act that provides support for Special Olympics through legislation. In 2005, Project Unify was launched throughout the USA and Canada where over 150 athletes gathered to battle negative stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities. Today, there are various registered service providers that help people with all sorts of disabilities, athletes included. A certified and experienced NDIS service provider can fund different types of support suitable for athletes like transport support, therapeutic support, mobility equipment, vehicle modification and more. They provide holistically tailored support and services that address the users every concern and help them reach their NDIS goals.
In July of 2008, Special Olympics celebrated their 40th birthday with millions of athletes from 180 countries gathering to commemorate all the good things the organization brought to disabled athletes. The Special Olympics Kansas also started the Young Athletics program in the Metro Area that blessed 105 children with intellectual disabilities from 3 to 7 with the world of sports. The 2000s were not all bright either because Eunice Kennedy Shriver died in 2009 in her home.
The development of Special Olympics is not over. The organization recently celebrated its 50th birthday and there are many more coming up. Special Olympics will always provide people with disabilities with opportunities to participate, compete, socialize, and grow surrounded by sports!
Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.