Every child deserves the right to compete in athletes and thanks to the Special Olympics; every child can reach for gold. With more than 4 million athletes worldwide and competitions held almost every day somewhere in the world, the Special Olympics have become a haven for athletes with intellectual disabilities to reach their sporting goals.
From humble beginnings as a summer camp for disabled children, the Special Olympics have evolved into a global movement of support and honor for people with intellectual disabilities. Eunice Kennedy Shriver noted how unfairly these individuals were treated in society and how often they, particularly the children, didn’t not have the opportunity to play sports or just play as children do.
Determined to rectify this, Shiver developed a small summer day camp program for children with intellectual disabilities, which eventually led to the greater vision of the games. Shiver believed that individuals with intellectual disabilities were capable of much more than society was willing to allow them. She believed that they should be allowed to play in playground, or in sports, just like any other child. In an effort to show that all children, disabled or not, Shiver envisioned small day camps that would allow intellectually disabled children a chance to demonstrate their prowess and desire to participate in physical activities, like sports.
In the summer of 1968, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, the first Special Olympics were held, with over 1000 delegates from 26 U.S. states and Canada. From there, the games developed into a worldwide event, where Special Olympics competitions are held every day throughout the world, resulting in more than 53,000 events annually. They are held every two years, much like the Games, but alternate years between the Olympics.
The Special Olympics reaches all corners of the globe. With more than 4 million athletes from 170 countries train and compete in 32 Olympic games, in both summer and winter sports. Even though the games are geared toward competition, the games are more about the interactions and acceptance of individuals with intellectual disabilities. The organization hopes that the games can reach a wider audience every year with their multiple events and strives to educate people on the importance of sports and overall mental and physical health of participants.
The games give individuals with intellectual disabilities a chance to partake in activities that may have, at one time, been considered inappropriate for their skill level; but through these games, men and women with intellectual disabilities are able to not only prove that they can compete, but that they can succeed.