Monday, April 23, 2012

What makes Special Olympics so "special"?

Our family is involved in Special Olympics.  We are blesses to be part of this wonderful program.  Our son is an athlete and we have the honor of helping out, even some coaching now and then.  But what is Special Olympics and why is it so special?

Special Olympics is founded on the belief that people with intellectual disabilities can, with proper
instruction and encouragement, learn, enjoy and benefit from participation in individual and team
sports. Special Olympics also believes that through millions of individual acts of inclusion where
people with and without intellectual disabilities are brought together, long-standing myths are
dispelled, negative attitudes changed and new opportunities to embrace and celebrate people
with intellectual disabilities are created.

History of Special Olympics

t all began in the early 1960s, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw how unjustly and unfairly people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She also saw that many children with special needs didn’t even have a place to play. She decided to take action.
Soon, her vision began to take shape, as she held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities – and not dwell on what they could not do. This vision eventually grew into the global Special Olympics movement.

Mrs. Shriver gently guides a child into the pool for a swimming lesson
First Steps. Eunice Kennedy Shriver guided children with intellectual disabilities into sports at her Camp Shriver events, which were the predecessor to Special Olympics.

19-20 July 1968

The 1st International Special Olympics Summer Games are held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1,000 people with intellectual disabilities from 26 U.S. states and Canada compete in track and field and swimming.See a slideshow about the first Games

December 1971

The U.S. Olympic Committee gives Special Olympics official approval as one of only two organizations authorized to use the name “Olympics” in the United States.  

5-11 February 1977

Steamboat Springs, Colorado, hosts the 1st International Special Olympics Winter Games. More than 500 athletes compete in skiing and skating events. CBS, ABC and NBC television networks cover the Games. See a slideshow about Special Olympics World Games

June 1981

Wichita, Kansas (USA) Police Chief Richard LaMunyon launches a Special Olympics awareness campaign that becomes the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. The Torch Run grows into the movement's largest grassroots fundraiser, raising $30 million each year. 

September 1986

The United Nations launches the International Year of Special Olympics. The theme is “Special Olympics—Uniting the World.”  

October 1987

“A Very Special Christmas,” a benefit album featuring holiday music by top rock 'n' roll performers, is released worldwide. It is produced by Jimmy and Vicki Iovine of A&M Records and Bobby Shriver, with all earnings going to Special Olympics. More than 2 million records, compact discs and cassette tapes are sold. 

February 1988

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) signs a historic agreement with Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver officially endorsing and recognizing Special Olympics.  

July 1988

Special Olympics Unified Sports® is launched at the annual Special Olympics Conference in Reno, Nevada, and Lake Tahoe, California. Bowling, volleyball and softball are the first sports included. 

20-27 March 1993

The 5th Special Olympics World Winter Games are hosted in Salzburg and Schladming, Austria. These are the first World Winter Games held outside North America.  See a slideshow about Special Olympics World Games

1-9 July 1995

Several new initiatives make their debut at the 9th Special Olympics World Summer Games. These include the Host Town Program, Healthy Athletes®, and Research and Policy Symposia. In addition, for the first time, people with intellectual disabilities serve as certified officials.

January 1997

Healthy Athletes becomes an official Special Olympics initiative, providing health-care services to Special Olympics athletes worldwide. The program includes free vision, hearing and dental screening, injury prevention clinics and nutrition education. Learn about Healthy Athletes

20 July 1998

Special Olympics celebrates its 30th anniversary with the introduction of the first Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers. These 12 remarkable men and women travel the world as spokespeople for the movement over a two-year term.

17 December 1998

U.S. President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton host “A Very Special Christmas from Washington, D.C.” It's the first time the White House hosts a Special Olympics gala and the first time that artists from “A Very Special Christmas” album series gather together to perform. In 2000, President and Mrs. Clinton host “A Very Special Christmas” for the second time. Learn more about the record series


The “Campaign for Special Olympics” sets unprecedented goals to increase athlete participation by 1 million and to raise more than $120 million over a five-year period. This global campaign changes the face of the Special Olympics movement.  

18-22 May 2000

As part of the “Campaign for Special Olympics,” actor Arnold Schwarzenegger joins Special Olympics athletes to light the Flame of Hope at the Great Wall of China. They launch the Special Olympics China Millennium March and begin the most ambitious growth campaign in the movement’s history. China pledges to increase its number of athletes from 50,000 to 500,000 by 2005.  

May 20-23 2001

The first-ever Global Athlete Congress takes place in The Hague, Netherlands. Special Olympics athletes from every region in the world come together to discuss the future of the Special Olympics movement. Despite differences in language, culture, age and gender they hold discussions, challenge existing ideas and vote on new resolutions.
The president of South Africa competes at the 2010 Unity Cup in South Africa.
The Unity Cup, 2010. The president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, right, competes with Special Olympics athletes and celebrity footballers in the Unity Cup, sponsored by Coca-Cola. 

12-14 July 2001

Cape Town, Johannesburg and Sun City, South Africa host Special Olympics African Hope. Former President Nelson Mandela, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Special Olympics athletes gather to light the Flame of Hope and kick off the largest Law Enforcement Torch Run through the streets of Cape Town. The event generates awareness of the movement throughout the continent. It also launches a major push to reach 100,000 new athletes in Africa by 2005.  

October 2001

Special Olympics develops and distributes So Get Into It® kits for students with and without disabilities to schools and teachers worldwide at no cost. They  teach young people about intellectual disabilities while empowering them to “be the difference.” The lessons highlight values of inclusion, acceptance and respect. 

19-20 July 2002

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund partners with Special Olympics to host an annual birthday celebration for its founder and chairperson, former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. The event also helps Special Olympics spotlight its Unified Sports® program.  
Three female athletes share a victory hug at the 2003 World Summer Games in Ireland
Ireland in 2003. The Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin, Ireland, drew athletes with intellectual disabilities from countries scattered all around the world. 

21-29 June 2003

Ireland hosts the first Special Olympics World Summer Games to be held outside the United States. 5,500 athletes participate in this landmark event. It is the world's largest sporting event in 2003, capturing the hearts and imaginations of the Irish people.  See a slideshow about Special Olympics World Games

20 June 2003

Special Olympics releases “The Multinational Study of Attitudes toward Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities.” It's the most comprehensive global study thorough ever on this subject. The report offers valuable insight into how people around the world view the roles and capabilities of persons with intellectual disabilities in the workplace, classroom and daily social life.

30 October 2004

U.S. President George W. Bush signs the “Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act."  This gives $15 million every year for five years to Special Olympics programs. The funding goes to  initiatives that encourage greater respect and understanding for people with intellectual disabilities. This marks the first time that Special Olympics secures support through legislation.

23 December 2005

"The Ringer," a Farrelly Brothers film starring Johnny Knoxville, opens in theaters throughout Canada and the United States. The film includes appearances from more than 150 Special Olympics athletes. Its producers work with Special Olympics to challenge destructive stereotypes and negative thinking about people with intellectual disabilities.  


Special Olympics surpasses its goal of doubling the number of athletes that participate worldwide to 2.5 million participants. With sports at the core, the movement stands as a leader in advancing rights and opportunities and policy change for its athletes in 165 countries worldwide.

10 June 2006

U.S. President and Mrs. George W. Bush host a tribute dinner at the White House to honor Special Olympics for its unprecedented growth over the past five years. The event also celebrates the 86th birthday of founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.  

October 2007

The city of Shanghai, China, hosts the 12th Special Olympics World Summer Games. The Games are broadcast internationally on a vast scale. Participation is at a record high -- bringing together  more than 7,500 athletes from 164 countries participating. See a slideshow about Special Olympics World Games

July 2008

Special Olympics celebrates its 40th anniversary as a true global movement, with nearly 3 million athletes in more than 180 countries.  

February 2009

The Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho, USA, draws nearly 2,000 athletes from close to 100 countries . U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visits and declares special needs advocacy "a civil rights movement."See stories from the 2009 Games

May 2009

The U.S. National Portrait Gallery unveils a historic portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The painting is the first portrait the Gallery has ever commissioned of an individual who has not served as a U.S. President or First Lady. 

11 August 2009

The founder of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, dies at her family home in Massachusetts. Letters and messages celebrating her contribution to humanity poured in from world leaders and ordinary people around the world. See

November 2009

"A Very Special Christmas 7" is released, infusing the Christmas record series with the energy and talent of a new generation of music stars. See

June 2010

The first Special Olympics Global Congress is held in Marrakech, Morocco. Hundreds of Special Olympics leaders from around the world gather to chart the next five years of work. See a slideshow about the Congress 
Cyclists ride near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, as part of the first Eunice Kennedy Shriver Challenge running, walking and biking event
2010's Eunice Kennedy Shriver Challenge. Held in Washington, D.C., it was a daylong celebration of sport in honor of Special Olympics' founder featured running, walking and biking events plus music and games. 

September 2010

The first global Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day is held in more than 100 countries to celebrate the vision of the founder of Special Olympics. The event also aims to increase the momentum of the Special Olympics movement. See photos from the day

October 2010

Officials announce that the next Special Olympics World Winter Games will be held in PyeongChang, Korea, on 29 January-6 February 2013.

January 2011

The Special Olympics movement mourns the death of Sargent Shriver, husband of late founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. He was also a longtime Special Olympics President and Chairman of the Board Emeritus.  

June-July 2011

The 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games are held in Athens, Greece. Nearly 7,000 athletes from 170 countries take part.  

September 2011

Officials announce that the next Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in the United States for the first time in 16 years. Los Angeles, California is set to host the Summer Games in July 2015.

Be gentle.

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