Sports fans here in the Philadelphia area are energized with the Eagles Super Bowl victory and more recently with Villanova claiming the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. My congratulations to all these athletes, but the winners I’m personally honored to celebrate are all the athletes – and supporters – of the Special Olympics. The organization is marking its 50th anniversary in July, and it’s a very exciting time for myself and others involved with and touched by its efforts.
Anniversaries are a naturally reflective time, and Special Olympics has a truly inspiring past. At a time when there was much less understanding around intellectual disabilities than there is today, Eunice Shriver, daughter of Rose and Joseph Kennedy Sr., started what became the impetus for Special Olympics in the backyard of their Maryland home for her sister who was born with intellectual disabilities. In 50 short years, it has grown into the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities: with more than 4.9 million athletes in 172 countries -- and over a million volunteers. When my son Alec began playing basketball with Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) over 12 years ago, I never imagined he’d go on to participate in 6 different sports and forge the friendships he has developed. I also didn’t foresee that I’d take on an active volunteer role that would grow into my now more than 3 years serving on the Board of Directors. It’s about something greater than sports. It’s about finding success, joy and friendship as part of a global community of inclusion, acceptance and respect. It’s about being a part of a team and building camaraderie. For some who don’t have these experiences outside of Special Olympics, it becomes their everything – their purpose – and seeing this kind of life-changing impact is incredible.
I also largely credit Special Olympics for inspiring me to take my passion for this cause further. It helped to give me the motivation to start Pride Ventures (PVI) which is now in its 9th year. It also inspired me to take on the role of People with Disabilities Advocacy Employee Resource Group (PDARG) Executive Sponsor and support this advocacy within D&Z, and I’m proud to work for a company that values Diversity and with colleagues who share this relentless drive to promote inclusion.
While many of the Special Olympics national anniversary recognitions kick off in July, SONJ recently held A Champions Reception “50 Years of Changing the Game” fundraiser. I can’t think of a better word to describe these athletes than champions. Those who support the cause as well, whether as a volunteer, or financially or as an advocate, they are champions also. And as we use this anniversary to look back and celebrate all we’ve accomplished, it’s just as important to look ahead at where we want, and need, to be. Please use the comments below to share your thoughts on how D&Z/PDARG or Special Olympics can continue to make positive strides for individuals with intellectual disabilities.