Copyright © Special Olympics
The Special Olympics began with the vision of just one woman. Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She was concerned with how society unfairly and unjustly treated people with intellectual disabilities, and how disabled children were prevented from being allowed to play. Shriver decided to spearhead a movement to change this.
In June 1962, She started a sports summer camp in her own backyard for youth with intellectual disabilities. Shriver aimed to understand what these kids could do, so that sport programs and activities could be designed for them. Seeing the initial success, Shriver worked with the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation to spread this idea to college campuses, community centers, and recreational departments. Eventually, her message reached Anne McGlone Burke, an instructor with the Chicago Parks District. She wanted to hold an one time Olympic-style athletic competition for Chicago people with special needs. Burke asked Shriver to help fund to the event, and received a $25,000 grant from the����Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Using this fund, the first special Olympics event was held in the summer of 1968 at Soldier Field, Chicago. More than 1,000 athletes from the United States and Canada participated in the track&field, floor hockey and swimming events. At the games, Shriver announced the formation of the Special Olympics as a continued event, not just a one off competition.
The success of the first few games led to recognition from people all across the United States. In December 1971, the U.S Olympic Committee granted the Special Olympics official approval to use the title “Olympics” in the United States. The Special Olympics was only one of two organizations granted the rights to use that name. The continued success of the Summer Special Olympic Games motivated the organization to expand. In 1977, the Special Olympics held its first Winter Games in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Close to 500 athletes participated in skiing and skating events. Eventually, the Special Olympics was officially recognized and endorsed by the International Olympic Committee in 1988.
Up until 1993, all the Special Olympics games had been held in North America. But the 1993 Special Olympics Winter Games was held in Salzburg and Schladming, Austria. And in 2003, the first Special Olympics Summer Games was held������outside the United States in Dublin, Ireland.
Legislative support had been lacking for the Special Olympics. This was despite the Special Olympics running many programs like Healthy Athletes, Host Town Program, and United Sports that intended to help disabled youth. However, in 2004, President George W. Bush signed the “Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act”. The bill gave Special Olympics programs $15 million every year for 5 years to fund its its Healthy Athletes, Education, and Worldwide Expansion programs.