Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, but last week, at the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards (ESPYs), the event’s founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver was posthumously named the Arthur Ashe Courage Awardee for her contributions to the world of sports.
Presented by Michelle Obama, and accepted by Shriver’s son (and current Special Olympics Chair), Timothy. The former First Lady praised Timothy’s mother for being a “remarkable woman” who believed that “everyone deserves a chance to push themselves and find out what they’re made of.”
“Through her passionate service,” said Obama, “She made our world more inclusive and fair…She honored the highest traditions of athletic history, using sports to break barriers and change hearts and minds.”
Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968. She was inspired by her sister, Rosemary, who herself had an intellectual disability. Eunice recalled the special moments she and her sister spent outdoors sailing the open sea or skiing, and wanted to provide her with an event where Rosemary could express off her love for sport.
Shriver believed that people like her sister, deserved well-developed sports programs and resources for them to excel in their respective games. Over the next five decades, the Special Olympics has grown to become something larger than just a sporting event, but a place for people with disabilities to compete and showcase their true passion for sports.
Shriver passed away in 2009, but lived long enough to see her creation touch the lives of thousands of athletes. Today, her heroic legacy reminds us of sports’ power to bring people together, giving them not just a place to compete with dignity, but more importantly, hope.
For fifty years, Eunice Shriver’s Special Olympics have given differently-abled athletes the chance to compete in a safe, regulated environment.