Special Olympics

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Eunice Kennedy Shriver,

Special Olympics is an international organization and competition held every two years, alternating between Summer and Winter Games, for people who have intellectual disabilities. There are also local, national and regional competitions in over 150 countries worldwide.



The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago in 1968. Anne McGlone Burke, a physical education teacher with the Chicago Park District, began with the idea for a one-time Olympic-style athletic competition for people with special needs. Burke then approached Eunice Kennedy Shriver, head of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, to fund the event. Shriver encouraged Burke to expand on the idea and the JPK Foundation provided a grant of $25,000. More than 1,000 athletes from across the United States and Canada participated. At the Games, Shriver announced the formation of Special Olympics. Shriver’s sister, Rosemary Kennedy, underwent a lobotomy in an effort to alter her personality. The brain damage inflicted by the operation caused a severe permanent intellectual disability. This disability is often credited as Shriver's inspiration to help grow the Special Olympics.

In June 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a day camp, known as Camp Shriver, for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Potomac, Maryland.[1] Using Camp Shriver as an example, Shriver promoted the concept of involvement in physical activity and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Camp Shriver became an annual event, and the Kennedy Foundation (of which Shriver was Executive Vice President) gave grants to universities, recreation departments and community centers to hold similar camps.

In 1971, The U.S. Olympic Committee gave the Special Olympics official approval to use the name “Olympics”.[1]

The first International Special Olympics Winter Games were held in February 1977 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA.[1]

In 1988, the Special Olympics was officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).[1]

In 1997, Healthy Athletes became an official Special Olympics initiative, offering health information and screenings to Special Olympics athletes worldwide.[1]

In 2003 the first Special Olympics World Summer Games to be held outside of the United States took place in Dublin Ireland. Approximately 7000 athletes from 150 countries competed over 18 disciplines. The Dublin games were also the first to have their own opening and closing ceremonies broadcast live, performed by President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

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