A Special Olympics Pioneer

A lot of what last week’s post talked about had to do with creating equal opportunity for those who suffered from some sort of intellectual disability. While not nearly as present now, there was a time when the intellectually disabled were treated terribly and in an unjust matter. The height of this movement occurred in the late 1950s and early 1960s, most paying little attention to just how poorly this group of people was treated. That’s where it all changed when a certain someone noticed this and began to act on her vision right away. Many times it may seem like people have great ideas all the time, but they seemingly never come to fruition without taking the necessary course of action to act on your idea and beginning to implement it.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a true pioneer of the Special Olympics had a vision of equal opportunities being created for those who were intellectually impaired or disabled. She was deeply affected by the fact that not only were these children not treated the same as everyone else, but they didn’t even have a place to play. Shriver’s sister, Rosemary suffered from an intellectual disability and as stated earlier, didn’t have many options when it came to participating in sports among other things. Soon enough, she decided to act on her idea and held a summer day camp for children affected by intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. Shriver wasn’t interested in taking note of the limitations that these children had or the various obstacles they had to overcome, but instead trying to see what they were capable of doing not only in sports, but in a handful of other activities as well. More than anything, it presented these children with a place to play, an escape from the constant struggle of everyday life.

Shriver’s actions didn’t stop at the summer camp though as she became a force on the national scene, one of the primary players in the White House panel held by her brother, President John F. Kennedy on those with intellectual disabilities and assumed the role of director of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. The foundation had been created in 1946 after Joseph, Shriver’s oldest brother had been killed in World War II. All three of the afore-mentioned events or happenings played key roles in helping the Special Olympics to be created and eventually become what it is today. Shriver herself was an athlete in college and through this, began to envision how sports had a way of bringing people from all walks of life together.

Following her death on August 11, 2009, many began to realize the true impact of Shriver’s actions. A decision was reached that something needed to be done to honor Shriver. This past Saturday, the 4th annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day was held, bringing together children, from all walks of life, some that are intellectually disabled and some that aren’t to participate in various sports and activities. The theme of the day was “Play Unified to Live Unified”. As I sit here and think about what it truly means, it becomes apparent that there is perhaps no better way to describe Shriver’s idea. Her whole vision started from a concept of allowing intellectually disabled children to participate in sports and other activities that they enjoyed while not feeling any sort of pressure from others. I think it’s safe to say that Shriver would be more than proud of what her actions have grown into, given not only the size of the Special Olympics and the number of participants but that the Day that honors her encompasses people from all walks of life, each with a unique story.

For more information on the extraordinary life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, be sure to check out the links listed below!



-Joe Fitzhenry


2 thoughts on “A Special Olympics Pioneer

  1. Pingback: Sports Creates Opportunities For All-A Look at the Sports Played in the Special Olympics | Spirit in Motion, Be Brave in the Attempt

  2. Pingback: 50 Years Later | Spirit in Motion, Be Brave in the Attempt

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