Ancient Greek vases depict Olympic Games that were held in Athens many centuries ago. They show muscular young men running and wrestling, with olive wreaths gracing their brows. In modern times, millions watch the Olympics on television and see youthful competitors parading in national costumes in international amphitheaters, all eager to compete with other young athletes for treasured medals.
Olympic Games took on a very unique meaning in 1968. That was the year that Special Olympics — an organization for the benefit of children and adults with intellectual disabilities1– was founded. Today, the impact of Special Olympics is global, and more than 3.5 million athletes of all ages train and compete in over 170 countries.
Special Olympics began with the vision of one woman — Eunice Kennedy Shriver, or EKS, as she is known to those in the Special Olympics organization. Her daughter, Maria, called her a “fearless warrior for the voiceless.” Her father, Joseph P. Kennedy, thought she would have been a great politician if only she had been a boy.
Three of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s brothers were elected to the U.S. Senate and one of them, John F. Kennedy, was the much beloved 35th President of the United States. Like her brothers, EKS had political skills and leadership qualities, but her path did not lead to elective office. She chose to exercise her strength in service to a neglected population — those with intellectual disabilities. She often referred to them as her “special friends.”