Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to more than 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries. Eunice Kennedy Shriver is the founder of Special Olympics. Here’s Anumita in-depth report on the Special Olympics in the Dublin and Hilliard areas. She tells us how this event boosted the confidence and self-esteem of her two sons with Apergers.
Running along with the rest of the boys, my elder son looked so desperate to compete. I knew he was trying hard but could not keep up. While walking back from the park, I found him dejected and very low. I touched his forehead and smiled. He was barely 8 years old at that time. I could understand his frustrations but did not know what to do. My elder son was diagnosed with Apergers (under the spectrum of Autism). His motor skills were not up to the mark for competitive sports and that affected his self esteem. My younger son was just a six months old then. His diagnosis came in later years.
I live in Columbus, Ohio, a small but growing town of the mid-west of USA. Sports is a major part of growing up with most people around me. My elder son was no exception, only his body and mind were not in cahoots. Growing up in a not-so- sporty family, my knowledge in that area was in much need of upgrading. All I did was to pray for an answer.
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ~ Paulo Coelho
And believe me, I did receive an answer, when I got to meet Andrea Fogt. She was my younger son’s pre-school teacher, and she introduced me to Special Olympics. She was the coordinator of the Dublin and Hilliard area of Special Olympics. The first day at practice for basketball skills, made me realise how important it is for a child to feel accomplished. My son was smiling, running and participating. On the drive back home, I asked him if he wanted to go back next week. He looked at me with his eyebrows pulled together and asked, if they have practice only once a week.
He trained and competed for basketball, swimming, bowling, tennis and track. He was good in track but loved to play tennis. This association gave him the opportunity to choose and play in multitude of games. His competitions earned him many medals. His picture in the local newspaper. It made me feel proud. I had tears in my eyes. I thanked my stars and Northwest Special Olympics for making him feel as an achiever.
It has been 10 years now that I am associated with Northwest Special Olympics of Hilliard School District. I have watched both my children and many more blossom. Their confidence and attitude towards life increased manifolds. For once, their disabilities are not their hindrance.
In my city of Columbus, Ohio, we have the State Summer Games for Special Olympics. It is a huge occasion when all athletes from all over the state congregate to compete in various sports. The Ohio State University (OSU) opens its dorms, cafeterias, and fields, for this event, for the weekend. There are hundreds of volunteers and coaches, who give up their weekend to run this huge event, as smoothly as possible.
Before this huge event in June, there is a small scale one, which is essentially called the Local Games. This year my younger son participated in two events for the Track and Field. It is usually held at Whetstone High School, Columbus. Every year, as I walk to the bleachers filled with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, teachers and every kind of supporters for the athlete, I am overwhelmed with the flood of love that’s palpable.
Persistence and perseverance is one big thing among the competing athletes and it spills into the atmosphere and radiates. The crowd cheers for everyone, irrespective of the team, color or creed. There are thousands of volunteers aging from 15 to over 60. The opening parade is headed by the Marching Brass Bands, and most of the time the Major of the city is present for the inauguration. The anchor of the local channel introduces all the people, who work for this event. Mc Donald’s had been a big sponsor for this event for last few years. They have been supplying food for the athlete and the volunteers as donation.
“Let me Win. But if I Cannot Win, Let Me Be Brave in the Attempt.” ~ Special Olympics Athlete’s’ Oath
At the beginning of each game and event, all special needs athlete take an oath. The words of this oath specify the wish to achieve and propagates a sportsmanship attitude towards winning and not being able to win. In other words, Special Olympics is an organization, which makes many special needs individuals happy and gives them a sense of accomplishment.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver is the founder of Special Olympics. She was a woman of substance, who believed in rightful treatment of all and a big champion of justice. Eunice watched how there was a disparity in treatment of the intellectually challenged individuals, both children and adults. With her sister, Rosemary, being intellectually challenged, she found out the limitations of her being involved in many of the sporting events. Eunice excelled in sports in her college days and realised this would be the ground, which could unify both of the spheres of intellectual and physical disabilities, if they are given proper opportunity.
In 1962, she opened “Camp Shriver” in her backyard and invited intellectually challenged individuals to have a summer camp. She aimed to find out the capacity and techniques of introducing sports to people with disabilities. The special needs had their opportunity now, and this grew up to be big. In the year 1968, the first Special Olympics Games was held in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Eunice’s endeavor for the special needs was a gift of magnanimous proportion. In the inaugural speech she said, “a very fundamental fact,” children with disabilities can be great individuals, “through sports they can realise their potential for growth.” Her belief in this organisation giving “the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow,” is very true still today.
“Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to more than 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries.” It provides a platform for those with special needs. The effort of this organisation worldwide has not only boosted confidence but also given them a goal to strive for. They have been accepted as they are and they compete with equal or perhaps greater vigor. (http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/What_We_Do/What_We_Do.aspx)
Pix by author, Net, This Weeks News and Northwest Superstars.