Sports have a unique way of bringing together people from all walks of life and creating a bond between them that is often times unbreakable. Perhaps words can’t quite do it justice, but shared experiences in sports have a way of making a profound impact on people’s lives. For someone who may have a hard home life or just needs an escape from the pressures of our world, sports can represent that escape. At the end of the day, each and every person may have their own reason to play a sport, but one thing is for sure, it represents an opportunity for everyone.
Prior to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, those with intellectual disabilities had no real way of competing in sports. Many of these same kids were treated unfairly and the thought of them competing in sports alongside those who didn’t suffer from an intellectual disability wasn’t taken too seriously. As described in last week’s post (https://kathyscapping1.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/a-special-olympics-pioneer/), Shriver played a key role in the development of the Special Olympics to become what they are today. Now a days, those with intellectual disabilities have the ability to participate in 32 Olympic Style, both individual and team sports that creates the equal opportunities for those with an intellectual disability.
While I’d love to be able to take you through each of the 32 sports and the various nuances about each of them, that isn’t too realistic so we’ll take a look at a couple of them. Let’s start with Golf, a sport that is hard enough to begin with for those that don’t suffer from an intellectual disability. Trust me, my golf game leaves a lot to be desired, it’s not exactly a sight to behold. The version of golf that is held in the Special Olympics really only has a few slight differences in the rules of what you would see on Sunday at Augusta National. There is an individual skills competition, stroke play as well as unified and alternate shot team play competitions. Golf is a game that requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and a certain level of focus for a rather lengthy period of time. In 2011, there were 22,940 Special Olympic athletes that participated in one of the golf competitions listed above. As I sit at my desk writing this post, I want to be able to put into words how remarkable that truly is, but the only one that is coming to mind is amazing. The fact that those with an intellectual disability can still play and succeed in as challenging a game as golf is, is truly amazing.
Let’s take a look at another sport that really opened my eyes to what a great job the Special Olympics do to open doors to those with an intellectual disability and give them a chance to participate in a sport they love. Somewhat similar to golf in terms of the level of difficulty, tennis is a sport that requires a great deal of athleticism as well as an ability to think on your feet as one tries to figure out their opponent’s next move or recognize his/her strengths and weaknesses. Singles, doubles (mixed and unified) and individual skills competitions are all available for those Special Olympic athletes who wish to channel their inner Rafael Nadal. Ever since it was added to the Special Olympic program in 1987, tennis has done nothing but grow exponentially, especially over the majority of the past decade. Participation in tennis has increased by 237% since 2004.
As a whole, each of the 32 Special Olympic sports has their own unique features that can appeal to various people with intellectual disabilties. Maybe more so than anything, adding more and more sports has given people a chance to participate in a sport that was likely nothing more than a pipe dream for them at one point in time. Granted there are different levels of intellectual disabilities, but the fact that they can still find a way to play sports was so eye-opening for me as I sit here and learn more about it. To the casual observer, the sports that we are so accustomed to watching on television are usually not thought of as something that could be held in the Special Olympics.
If you want to learn more about the various sports and competitions held in the Special Olympics, be sure to check out the link below for an in-depth look at just how they work!