2001-02-03 / Sports

A Lesson in Humanity

By Emanuel Jalonschi

The Special Olympics is an anomaly in the world of sports. The sports world is a world that bequeaths instant millions and celebrity status on our most publicized athletes. The Special Olympics are somehow something so much more.

St. Camillus, with its recent fund-raising success and the help of our community, is hoping to send representatives to the Special Olympics in Dublin 2002. This is a great accomplishment of compassion. Then again, the Special Olympics have always been about great accomplishments in human compassion.

The Special Olympics began in the sixties as the brain-child of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Ms. Shriver noticed that people with mental retardation were in fact more capable of athletic under-takings than what was commonly believed at the time. Using the day camp she ran for people with mental retardation as a springboard, she was able to increase both awareness and participation in her events. Her hard work paid off. In 1968, the first ever Special Olympic Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.

Now the Special Olympics Program is established in all fifty states and most U.S. holding (e.g. the Virgin Islands, Guam, etc.). There are nearly 25,000 communities (such as ours) involved in the program and this number continues to grow. Also, starting in 1987, the Unified Sports Program has started integrating their Special Olympic athletes with more mainstream athletes in similar age and skill categories.

Internationally, the Special Olympics Program has taken off and continues to grow rapidly. There are nearly 150 countries with Special Olympics Programs around the world.

It’s not an "every-four-years" thing, either. Internationally, it has now become a year-round event, with physical training and competition in a wide variety of sports.

The Special Olympics is very unique in its results. While the positive results in sports are usually just by-products, in the case of the Special Olympics, they are the goal. Sports have been shown to have such positive effects on the mentally handicapped as the development of social skills, an increase in self-confidence, an improvement in motor-skills and general mental and physical fitness. All these results give the Special Olympics a truly "special" significance.

Quietly, with little fanfare and a lot of care and devotion, the Special Olympics Program continues to change the lives of thousands of mentally handicapped athletes and their families. The spirit of the entire event is best exemplified in the Special Olympics Oath. "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

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