Today, athletes from all over the world will gather in Los Angeles, California, for the start of the 2015 Special Olympics. The games began in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. Before a crowd of less than one-hundred people, the event founder, Eunice Kennedy Shiver, marched onto the field and recited this ancient oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt.” Forty-seven years later, this is still the oath of the Special Olympics, but now the games involve over 6,500 athletes with over 500,000 spectators.
As the middle daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy, Eunice was born into a notable family of public servants. Her brothers Robert and Ted served as senators, and John became President of the United States. Eunice chose to use her power and influence to fight for the disadvantaged and powerless like her older sister Rosemary, who was born with an intellectual disability.
Today’s Special Olympics Games is a testament to a lifetime of work Shriver spent working on behalf of people like her sister. Not only did she push for policy and legislation changes for people with disabilities, but she also started a summer camp on the grounds of her Maryland home where kids with intellectual disabilities could swim, play soccer, and ride horses for no charge. Soon Camp Shriver camps blossomed all around the country. These camps and her work directly led to the development of the Special Olympics. Shriver remained an active advocated for the Special Olympics until her death in 2009.
Today’s Games is momentous for another reason. For the first time ever, cheerleaders will join the athletes bringing with them their infectious spirit to cheer on the Games. One such squad is Team Joy from Montgomery County, Maryland.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver is a historic heroine for her lifelong advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities, and cheerleaders like Team Joy are heroines in the making. Go Team Joy. We are so proud.