In the summer of 1968 Eunice Shriver welcomed the FIRST Special Olympics Games, which were held in Chicago's Soldier Field, with 1,000 athletes competing.
Shriver also announced a new national program — Special Olympics — to offer people with intellectual disabilities everywhere “the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow.”
Special Olympics today is a global movement with 2.5 million athletes in more than 180 countries around the world.
Wednesday, 40 years later, it was my honor to be Master of Ceremonies and welcome the 2008 Prince George’s County Special Olympic Spring Games. This one regional event had nearly as many athletes as the original Special Olympics.
You cannot be involved in a Special Olympics event and not leave touched and inspired.
Competition alone is exciting beyond comprehension. Scooter and wheelchair races have as much intensity and more heart than any NASCAR race. Crowd noise for a 25 meter walk is deafening at field level. Most important cheers do not stop until the last competitor finishes.
Special Olympics draws you in and somehow makes you better. It is not all about the athletes. A Boy Scout attending one year noticed that wheelchair and assisted athletes could not mount the platform to receive medals. Single handedly and unrequested he designed and built ramped accessible award platforms so ALL athletes could know the thrill of “stepping up” or “rolling up” to receive their medals.
Watching the Star Spangled Banner be ‘signed’ by a class of special education elementary students may be the most beautiful version I have ever not heard.
Prior to each years games I am blessed to coach and practice with the athletes who will be speaking during opening ceremonies. Most athletes selected have never used a microphone and never spoken to more than a class. Public speaking in a stadium environment is daunting for most people.
When it is 'show time', I hand them the microphone and step back with a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. One after another they absolutely nail their remarks and light up the world with smiles as applause cascades down the stadium seats engulfing them and empowering dreams.
Caregivingly Yours, J Patrick Leer
(also available in Blogger edition, Caregiver Blog: "Caregivingly Yours")