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Her legacy will last
August 11, 2009 5:59 AM   Subscribe

"Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt." Eunice Kennedy Shriver has left a lasting legacy. In the 1962, Mrs. Shriver started a summer day camp in her back yard which would become Special Olympics only eight years later. The first official Special Olympics games brought together 1,000 athletes from 26 US states and Canada. Special Olmpics has grown to more than 3 million athletes with local organizations in each US state and national organizations from 181 countries.

While Rosemary Kennedy, Eunice's sister, is often credited as the inspiration behind the organization, the idea was originally brought forward by Judge Anne McGlone Burke. That idea has lead to 41 years of helping people succeed.
posted by onhazier (51 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:19 AM on August 11, 2009


A few years ago, my autistic and mentally disabled son, Jason, competed in his first special olympics. He ran a 100 meter dash. Actually, he kind of trotted/staggered a 100 meter dash. His brothers, my wife and I were yelling to him: "Go! Go, Jason! You can do it!" He crossed the finish line and then came over to us. He said, "I did it! I did it!" as he excitedly jumped up and down.

Jason came in 5th place. It was one of the proudest days of my life.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:40 AM on August 11, 2009 [19 favorites]


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What makes the founding of the Special Olympics so particularly exceptional to me is that at the time Mrs. Shriver started the day camp, it was still routine to institutionalize intellectually impaired individuals, who were still officially classified with terms like 'moron,' 'imbecile,' and 'idiot.' She didn't just start a day camp that became an international organization for challenged athletes; she helped spark a revolution of compassion.
posted by notashroom at 6:43 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who will take the place of these giants as they exit the stage? It worries me sometimes. Godspeed.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:45 AM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Last year, on the 40th anniversary of the first Special Olympics, Sports Illustrated presented its first Sportsman of the Year Legacy Award to Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Here's her website. Tribute messages are being posted there.

The Special Olympics Oath is:

Let me win,
but if I cannot win,
let me be brave
in the attempt.


For all the brilliant, talented, heroic athletes she helped be brave....
For completely revolutionizing the way the world viewed the disabled....
And forever altering the way disabled people perceived themselves and their disabilities:

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posted by zarq at 6:48 AM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by marginaliana at 6:49 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by wowbobwow at 6:49 AM on August 11, 2009


Dittoing all the lovely sentiments and tributes to a genuine pioneer, but I, for one, am glad that this means the local Boston news media will have to give up the incredibly ghoulish death watch they have been on for the last week and a half. I shudder to think about how much worse it's going to be when Ted Kennedy begins circling the drain.
posted by briank at 6:53 AM on August 11, 2009


All athletes could stand to learn a thing or two from Special Olympics participants.
posted by rocket88 at 6:53 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by nickyskye at 6:54 AM on August 11, 2009


She probably would have made a better president than her brother.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:01 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by geekyguy at 7:20 AM on August 11, 2009


Dittoing all the lovely sentiments and tributes to a genuine pioneer, but I, for one, am glad that this means the local Boston news media will have to give up the incredibly ghoulish death watch they have been on for the last week and a half. I shudder to think about how much worse it's going to be when Ted Kennedy begins circling the drain.
posted by briank at 9:53 AM on August 11 [+] [!]


Networks, national and international, and others have had little teams in the area for weeks, in anticipation of Teddy's death.
posted by etaoin at 7:20 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by readery at 7:44 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by njbradburn at 7:49 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by lazaruslong at 7:57 AM on August 11, 2009


One great way to pay tribute to Shriver would be to volunteer at your local/region's Special Olympics. The help is mucn appreciated, and you're guaranteed to have a great time and get a bad case of compassion overload that might have you inexplicably tear up later in the week.

Can't speak for other regions, but I know that a lot of the kids who participate in the Indiana Special Olympics are doubly disadvantaged -- they're competing against their disabilities AND their family's poverty. There's months and months of training that happens before the big day, and for a lot of kids it's their primary experience of a positive atmosphere and personal attention. Relentlessly optimistic coordinators and managers put in long hours corralling the group and teaching kids of different ages and vastly different skill-sets how to compete in their events and how to carry themselves in a public atmosphere (there are still a lot of families who cloister -- "shield" -- their disabled children and prevent them from ever having real experience in public settings).

And on the big day, wearing their uniforms -- t-shirts, and sometimes the first uniforms that these kids have ever worn -- they get the personal satisfaction that they're usually denied to them. They get to compete, and have people blowing out their lungs & larynx cheering them on. Once they've participated in their first SO, you can bet that they'll be looking forward to next year's games.

Like a lot of clichés it might be tough to connect with until you're there in it, but I dare anyone to be at the SO and not be affected when the Oath is recited allowed by all of the participants, families, fans, everyone together.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 8:03 AM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have spent quite a bit of time around people with developmental disabilities, both in a personal and professional setting. I don't doubt that the Special Olympics were founded with the best of intentions. However, the organization has mostly served to further segregate those with disabilities from their communities. I think it does a disservice to the community to continue to send the message that people with disabilities need to have their own sports teams, rather than be included in local sporting leagues in their communities.
posted by lexicakes at 8:18 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it does a disservice to the community to continue to send the message that people with disabilities need to have their own sports teams, rather than be included in local sporting leagues in their communities.

Granted, it's a very touchy subject, but I would disagree. In the same way that there are different classes of boxing and wrestling based on weight class, so should there be different teams based on ability. It's a simple matter of keeping the games competitive and the momentum flowing. That's not to say that there can't be participation across the various perceived boundaries of disability, but to not have the facility for people with diagnosed disabilities to have their own competitions really is a disservice to all involved.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:26 AM on August 11, 2009


...so should there be different teams based on ability.

I think we are actually in agreement on this point. I just don't think that the line we draw should be based solely on whether someone has a developmental disability. To illustrate with a personal example: I worked for about a year with a woman who participated in a Special Olympics bowling team. I went to weekly practices, and saw that there was a huge range of abilities represented. Many of the people there were well above average for anyone. I certainly was not as good at bowling as some of these people. So why do we send them the message that they should compete only with other disabled people? Why do we not encourage them to go to their local bowling alley and sign up to play in a bowling league? Or to get some friends together and start their own team?

My point is that yes, people have different skill levels, but their skills are not necessarily determined by the presence or absence of a disability. I certainly think that people with disabilities would probably have a better experience if they were included in sporting events meant for everyone.
posted by lexicakes at 8:36 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Agreed, there are lots of different factors and skill sets that determine ability within a given context of a sport or game that can't always be applied globally in terms of "disabled" or "normal". It seems that more bridge programs between Special Olympics related activities and and "normal" sporting leagues are cropping up, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:41 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by Librarygeek at 8:46 AM on August 11, 2009


My sister has been participating in Special Olympics since 1977. She made it to the world games in the 80's and is being considered for the next world games as well. My grandparents, who thought nothing of the neighbor's disabled child kept in a single room, learned to cheer and support my sister's endeavors both in and out of competition. My mother volunteered so much that at times it was like a second job for her. Both my bother and I started volunteering as buddies and chaperons when we just kids. Now, my sister still competes and I still volunteer. I am a track and field coordinator for our local area games. This year, my son expressed a desire to help and he volunteered with me. At the end of the day, he said he wants to do it again next year.

Not only has Special Olympics given my sister a passion and a life-long involvement with a healthy pursuit, she's made lasting friendships and had her life greatly enriched. Special Olympics and my Mom's attitude helped my grandparents learn that intellectual disabilities are nothing to be ashamed of or hidden away. Special Olympics has touched now four generations of my family.

While I can understand lexicakes concern over segregating the athletes, I would like to point out that a number of the athletes I work with in our area games also compete in other opportunities. Some of our long distance runners go to integrated, side-by-side schools and run on their school's cross country teams. Some of our athletes participate in marathons locally as well. They are amazing runners. They may not be the fastest. They are, however, consistent and have good endurance. Our athletes compete to the best of their ability and some are able to compete alongside the rest of us.
posted by onhazier at 8:48 AM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I hear you, lexicakes, and definitely agree with you up to a point. I think a lot of us are in favor of including disabled kids in the wider range of community activities. My guess is that, if a disabled kid can bowl, there's no reason he can't / shouldn't be able to sign up for the local kids bowling league. The bigger problem is whether the community bowling league has the extra help to accommodate these kids. A few kids could integrate fairly easily; my guess is that most can't without special attention, and most community activity leagues just can't provide that.

It probably goes w/o saying, but a fair amount of disabled kids participating in SO aren't just blind, or deaf, or handicapped. There's a whole host of attached problems -- behavioral, physical, etc. -- that make it difficult for these kids to function well in Pop Warner or Little League or Gus Macker.

Surely there are participants in the SO who can participate competitively with non-disabled, and I think most would be all for it. Just with the kids I've worked with, I can't imagine that their experience in an "everyone" event would be 1/10 as rich for them as the SO. The atmosphere and the goals are just so different.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 8:52 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by Smart Dalek at 8:58 AM on August 11, 2009


I certainly think that people with disabilities would probably have a better experience if they were included in sporting events meant for everyone.

Surely it could be a best of both worlds situation if people with disabilities were encouraged to compete in whatever forums seemed best for them?
posted by orange swan at 9:01 AM on August 11, 2009



In 1941, when Rosemary was 23, her father was told by her doctors that a cutting edge procedure would help calm her "mood swings that the family found difficult to handle at home". Joseph Kennedy gave permission for the procedure to be performed by Dr. Walter Freeman, the director of the laboratories at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C., together with his partner, James W. Watts, MD, from the University of Virginia. Watts performed his neurosurgical training at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and later he became the Chief of Neurosurgery at the George Washington University Hospital. Highly regarded, Dr. Watts later became the 91st president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia. The procedure in question was a lobotomy....Instead of producing the hoped-for result, however, the lobotomy reduced Rosemary to an infantile mentality that left her incontinent and staring blankly at walls for hours. Her verbal skills were reduced to unintelligible babble. Her mother, Mrs. Rose Kennedy, remarked that although the lobotomy stopped her daughter's violent behavior, it left her completely incapacitated.

This is very disturbing.
posted by anniecat at 9:01 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


...a number of the athletes I work with in our area games also compete in other opportunities.

I am glad to hear this. I think it's important to send a message that disabled does not mean bad at sports (or anything else).

The bigger problem is whether the community bowling league has the extra help to accommodate these kids.

I would like to clarify that I'm not talking just about kids, but adults with disabilities as well. To address your concern, many people with disabilities have staff to help them do whatever they need to do. The issue of having access to the right support is one that goes far beyond the scope of this discussion. In my personal experience with the Special Olympics, the bowling coaches didn't provide support for the participants. They all had their own staff.

I think the problem is that the Special Olympics were founded in the 60s, and all these people said, "Well, isn't that great?" And it was, at a time when people with disabilities didn't have access to their local sports leagues. But that shouldn't be where the progress ends. It's been 40 years, and we should now be able to say that people with disabilities are included in their local sports leagues. For too many people, the presence of the Special Olympics is good enough, and they aren't really interested in moving forward.
posted by lexicakes at 9:05 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by rtha at 9:07 AM on August 11, 2009


Unless the Special Olympics is somehow discouraging athletes with special needs from also participating in 'open to everyone' sports organizations, I don't understand your beef with them, lexicakes.
posted by rocket88 at 9:29 AM on August 11, 2009


I'm also surprised and disappointed at lexicakes.

Were it that those with mental disabilities were precluded from participating in anything BUT the Special Olympics then you might (just might) have a point. However, the SO offer thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of athletes with learning disability the chance to mingle, compete, achieve and have fun. It is not mandatory and it is not segregationist.
posted by Mephisto at 9:37 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by Spatch at 9:39 AM on August 11, 2009


Dr. Walter Freeman, not that many doctors can claim as harmful a legacy as that bastard. You might as well have handed him an icepick and some cotton swabs... might have had better results.
posted by edgeways at 9:40 AM on August 11, 2009


SO is good at what it does, which is primarily social-exercise in nature, competition.. eh usually not so much.
posted by edgeways at 9:43 AM on August 11, 2009


I think, rocket88, that lexicakes doesn't have a beef, per sey with SO, but s/he feels that people with disabilities often automatically get shunted into SO.

yeah, other opportunity do exist, I worked with a fellow with DD who also bowled with a "regular" league, but that was the exception, and unless you have a contact it may be difficult integrating the different players.

alright I'm done posting.
posted by edgeways at 9:48 AM on August 11, 2009


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posted by hydropsyche at 9:50 AM on August 11, 2009


Today it's easy to lose sight of how revolutionary Special Olympics really was. When I was growing up (early 60s) there was one family in my neighborhood that had a son who was disabled (as I reflect back I would call him autistic) but they refused to institutionalize. Although he lived at home, there was nothing for him otherwise. No Scouts, no Little League, no arts & crafts, nothing of an organized nature. We sometimes tried to include him in our activities, but it seldom worked out well. I'm sure he would have loved Special Olympics, had it been available to him.

And that's the point.
posted by tommasz at 10:14 AM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


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posted by kathrineg at 10:35 AM on August 11, 2009


Sorry if my previous comment wasn't clear enough, but I had a screaming baby sitting next to me. I think edgeways got it exactly right. The problem isn't just with Special Olympics, but with the idea that people with developmental disabilities should only participate in activities with other people with developmental disabilities. Many people with disabilities are encouraged to do Special Olympics, rather than joining a group in their community to do the same things. We see this sort of thing in other areas as well. For example, many children are placed in Special Education programs that keep them completely separated from their non- disabled peers.

I really believe that separate is not equal, and people with developmental disabilities should not only have the opportunities, but should be encouraged to be involved in the same activities as everyone else.
posted by lexicakes at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2009


I'd also like to make it clear that I acknowledge that the founding of the Special Olympics was a massive step in the right direction. I would just like to see things continue to move forward.
posted by lexicakes at 11:50 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really believe that separate is not equal, and people with developmental disabilities should not only have the opportunities, but should be encouraged to be involved in the same activities as everyone else.

I don't disagree, but note that sometimes total inclusion isn't necessarily the best fit for everyone. My 4-year-old son, who has autism, participated on a youth soccer team this year made up exclusively of other autistic children. It was a great experience for him because the coaches were amazingly patient, aware of the kids limitations (but super encouraging nonetheless), all of the other parents were understanding when some of the kids would exhibit what I guess you would call "typical autistic behavior" and every kid got an ample chance to participate in a real way.

I dream of the day my son will be able to participate in youth sports with typical peers and contribute in an authentic way. But for now, being realistic, he would be lost and disengaged among a group of kids who are far more advanced than him skill-wise and unlikely to really bond with him socially. I'm not sure that's the best fit for him right now.
posted by The Gooch at 12:12 PM on August 11, 2009


It's also possible that sometimes people are looking for community experiences as much as competitive opportunities. I have a friend who has won a few medals in martial arts at the Gay Games. She is not a world class athlete who would medal at the Olympics, but she is very good and could win in local competitions. But she isn't focused on competing in general. This is just one case where it is a great experience and so feels worthwhile for her.

Gay athletes who are olympic-level athletes still pursue their interest at the olympics, and those who are interested in competing at local or national level do so, too. No one is segregated. But at the Gay Games, there's a spirit of camaraderie and celebration, and all levels of athlete are welcome to try. It's more about following a dream in a supportive environment.

From what I understand, that's the goal behind the Special Olympics - being part of a community, giving something your best shot, and supporting everyone who makes an effort, whether they're impressive by any standard or overcoming major handicaps to do what would seem simple enough to someone else. Anyone who finds the athletic accomplishment in itself worth following further would be free to do so, though.
posted by mdn at 12:43 PM on August 11, 2009


I'm stuck in Cambridge right now, and luckily that means I got to hear the extra coverage that the MA media are devoting to the passing of this remarkable woman, who I'd really known nothing about other than her link to America's most famous political family.

One of the local NPR affiliate's reports on her death noted that for people of Eunice's generation, politics was the realm of men. Women who had her devotion to public service didn't have the same kinds of options as John or Bobby or Ted. But unlike most women, who expressed their commitment to public service through established channels of philanthropy, she created a new project that was exceptionally innovative and which challenged entrenched socail assumptions -- in her case, assumptions about the capabilities and appropriate treatment of people with "intellectual disabilities" (the term used by the president of the MA chapter of the Special Olympics). She had grown up being made to feel like Rosemarie's existence was some sort of shameful secret, and the Special Olympics seems like a fundamental affirmation of the humanity of a group of people who were, for the most part, locked away in institutions and treated as incapable of engaging with or participating in society and "normal" social experiences.

I was really impressed. Incidentally, her husband, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, founded the Peace Corps. What a remarkable couple.


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posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:33 PM on August 11, 2009


Sarge was appointed to run the Peace Corps by his brother-in-law President Kennedy.
posted by Cranberry at 2:30 PM on August 11, 2009


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posted by DieHipsterDie at 3:56 PM on August 11, 2009


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posted by Lynsey at 4:58 PM on August 11, 2009


mdn: your comment reminds me of a blooper from our local new anchor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVR1JunnuGE
posted by signalnine at 5:53 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oops, maybe Sargent wasn't the giant I thought. Cheers to Eunice, though.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:21 PM on August 11, 2009


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posted by brandz at 7:29 PM on August 11, 2009


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Zarq's Sports Illustrated link made me tear up at work.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:00 PM on August 11, 2009


The Times (London) seems to get an important biographical detail quite wrong in its caption to this photo.
posted by essexjan at 3:58 AM on August 12, 2009


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