Special Olympics is the largest organization involved in creating, organizing and managing sporting events for those with intellectual disabilities. They also provide training to more than 3.1 million athletes across 175 countries. The Special Olympics event is held once in two years, alternating between summer and winter. While this is the largest event of this type, there are also special local, national and regional sporting events that they are involved in through the year.
The organization consists of passionate people that come from various walks of life. They believe that people with specific intellectual disabilities have unique gifts that need to be identified, understood and appreciated. They believe that everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect and that those who have intellectual disabilities should also be treated equally.
With presence in more than 200 countries worldwide, they can easily claim that the "sun never sets on the Special Olympics movement". The goal of the Special Olympics team is to bring these sporting events to as many communities as possible.
Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, Special Olympics has always had the support some of the outstanding personalities in sports, education, government, business and disability advocacy. These people contribute in the various ways that they can. While some are on the board, others give assistance in the form of money or time. The whole idea is to create a better and higher level of awareness among the people with regards to intellectual disability.
There are sports, education and health programs that are run across the world. The works carries on throughout the year for all 365 days. It never stops and it aims at achieving the vision that the founder had dreamt of - to improve the lives of people with intellectual disability everywhere and therefore transform the life of everyone that they touch. The idea is to build a world that is more accepting towards those with intellectual disability.
Despite the fact that the organization has achieved a lot since the year of its inception in 1968, the mission of Special Olympics remains the same. It is still as relevant and vital as it was when the seeds of the organization were sown. The organization aims at creating a better world of acceptance and inclusion for all people using the power of sports.
It provides training and athletic competitions throughout the year for those who are intellectually disabled. This gives them the opportunity of developing and enhancing physical fitness and an opportunity to show courage and determination. It also allows them the chance to experience joy, happiness and enthusiasm; something that only sports can provide.
The objectives and activities of the Special Olympics team are not limited to just organizing the Special Olympics. The sports coaching provided covers various events including alpine skiing, aquatics, artistic gymnastics, athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cricket, cross country skiing, cycling, equestrian, figure skating, floor hockey, floor ball, football, golf, handball, judo, kayaking, netball, open water swimming, play activities, powerlifting, roller skating, sailing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, softball, table tennis, tennis and volleyball.
The organization is proof that despite all the conflicts and wars that are taking place today, Special Olympics is bringing communities together to prove that we are all people of the same world. Civil war were paused to allow Special Olympics to be held in Beirut, Lebanon and athletes from Israel and Palestinians came forward to take part in the same events every time the Special Olympics are held. With these efforts Special Olympics is creating an environment of unity and togetherness as they foster acceptance among everyone.
In fact Special Olympics has been creating a great environment for those with intellectual disabilities and ensured that the attitude of the world towards these people has changed over time. It has allowed many to see that the prejudices that they associated with.
In June 1963, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities in Maryland and five years later in 1968, the 1st international Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago. Thousands of people with intellectual disabilities from 26 states in the United States participated in track, field and swimming events.
In 1971, the U.S. Olympics Committee gave the organization the official approval of using the word "Olympics" to name the games that they hold. In 1977, the 1st international Special Olympics Winter Games were held in Steamboat Springs in Colorado. The Law Enforcement Torch Run was organized in Wichita, Kansas in 1981. This occurred when the police chief Richard LaMunyon realized that there was a need to increase the awareness of these Special Olympics so that larger number of people could participate. This has become one of the largest fund raising events of the organization since then.
In 1986 United Nations launched the "Year of the Special Olympics" under the banner "Special Olympics Uniting the World" and in 1988 the organization signed an agreement with Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver where the International Olympic Committee started to recognize the Special Olympics officially. In 1988, sports like bowling, volleyball and softball were also included in the Special Olympic events and in 1993 the first Winter Olympics were held outside of United States. This was in Salzburg and Schladming in Austria.
In the 1995 Special Olympic World Summer Games, a series of new initiatives were added. These included the Host Town Program, healthy Athletes and Research and Policy Symposia. The Healthy Athletes initiative became an official part of the Special Olympics event from then on. Free vision, hearing and dental screening in addition to injury prevention clinics and nutrition education are part of this program. The Special Olympics gala was given a new twist when President Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton hosted "A Very Special Christmas" at the White House.
Today the Special Olympics are known the world over and enjoy participation from all over the world. The 2011 Special Olympics were held in Athens, Greece and about 7000 athletes from 170 countries took part.
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