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The idea for the Special Olympics began in the early 1950s and ‘60s when Eunice Kennedy Shriver began to take notice of how unfairly people were being treated and the bias over those who did not have challenges.

Her first plan of action began with a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her backyard. Her optimistic approach focused on what could be achieved in sports and activities. Her work continued through the 1960s and was a driving force behind President John F. Kennedy’s panel.

Her passion eventually evolved into the Special Olympics movement. In July of 1968, about 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from the USA and Canada competed in the first summer games at Soldier Field in Chicago. The opening ceremony included a teen runner carrying a torch to light the forty-five foot high John F. Kennedy Flame of Hope.

Over two hundred events included the broad jump, twenty-five-yard swim, high jump, 100-yard swim, fifty-yard dash, water polo and floor hockey. The highly successful event was the catalyst for a growing strength in the Special Olympics.

The Special Olympics has grown to year-round sports with an emphasis on education, health, and community involvement that now encompasses one hundred seventy-four countries and more than five million athletes.

In the United States, games have featured more than five thousand athletes from all fifty states and the Caribbean. Participants must be at least eight years of age or older and have year-round sports training to be effective in competition.

The Special Olympic sports competition parallels other sports competitions as athletes train to compete in a vast number of events which include tennis, basketball, volleyball, soccer, golf, bowling, softball, gymnastics, alpine skiing, powerlifting, figure skating, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and many more.

Special Olympics participants train as elite athletes at least six days per week and multiple hours per day with a fitness coach. The difference between the Special Olympics and other sports organizations is that athletes of all ability levels are encouraged to participate, and all athletes are recognized for his or her performance.

There are many athletes who have competed over the years with a driven dedication. The word “Star” is not always who is first at the finish line or the best in competition.

Lani was born with a heart condition and intellectual disability. She was not credited for her ability to excel. Lani has proved any naysayers wrong, and her determination has awarded her a medal in rhythmic gymnastics. Jacqueline Mason commands her energy and confidence and it is difficult to believe that before the Special Olympics, she was reclusive and avoided eye contact. Her coach seized the opportunity and knew that she would flourish. She enjoys her work and competing in sports.

Mike Bailey was born with Down Syndrome and has been an avid Special Olympics enthusiast since he was a child. His parents feel that getting their son involved was one of the most important decisions they made.

And finally, Kayleigh Williamson, whose grandmother wanted to take her to New York to see the lights but did not live to see that happen. On Sunday, November 5th , thirty-three-year-old Kayleigh lived her grandmother’s dream and saw more than the lights of the city. She crossed the finish line in the prestigious New York Marathon in ten hours and nine minutes.

The ability to see the promise in an individual goes far beyond what we categorize as a disability. We can excel in a positive environment.

Live love life and the Special Olympics.

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