In the early 1960s, testing of children with intellectual disabilities revealed that they were only half as physically fit as their peers who did not have intellectual disabilities.
It was assumed that their low fitness levels were a direct result of their intellectual disabilities.
Dr. Frank Hayden, a Toronto researcher, questioned this assumption. His research showed that if provided the opportunity, those with intellectual disabilities could acquire the physical skills necessary to participate in sport and to become physically fit.
Dr. Hayden began searching for ways to develop a national sports program for people with intellectual disabilities. His work came to the attention of the Kennedy Foundation in Washington, D.C., and led to the formation of Special Olympics.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw how unjustly and unfairly people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She also saw that many children with intellectual disabilities didn't even have a place to play. She decided to take action.
Soon, her vision began to take shape, as she held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and
other activities - and not dwell on what they could not do. Throughout the 1960s, Eunice continued her pioneering work, both as the driving force behind President John F. Kennedy's White House panel on people with intellectual disabilities and as the director of the Joseph P.
Kennedy Jr. Foundation.
Her vision and drive for justice eventually grew into the Special Olympics movement, which she founded in 1968. Special Olympics now includes four million athletes in 170 countries.
The first Special Olympics sports competition was held in Chicago in 1968. It included 1,000 people with intellectual disabilities from 26 U.S. states and Canada competing in track and field, and swimming.
To ensure Canada's representation at the competition, Dr. Hayden called on Harry "Red" Foster, the renowned broadcaster, businessman and humanitarian, for support. Foster accompanied a Special Olympics floor hockey team from Toronto to the competition, and came away inspired by what he had seen.
On June 9, 1969, the very first Special Olympics national competition was held, in Toronto, Ont., less than one year after the sport movement was born on Chicago's Soldier Field. It attracted 1,400 individuals with intellectual disabilities from towns and cities across Canada.
Competing in athletics, aquatics, and floor hockey, they joined Foster, who worked tirelessly to bring the sport movement to this country.
Today, Special Olympics in Canada now enriches the lives of more than 34,000 children, youth and adults participating in 18 winter and summer sport programs as well as youth programs.
Special Olympics also touches the lives of their family, friends, and supporters, watching and supporting their athletes as they develop self-confidence, skills, and lasting friendships in their year-round sport programs run by their local Special Olympics clubs.
Special Olympics BC started out in 1980 with two weekends of games and about 500 participants. Thirty-three years later, SOBC is providing year-round, high-quality sports programs and competitions for more than 4,100 athletes in 55 communities around the province, with the vital assistance of more than 3,200 trained, dedicated volunteers.
The program is run by SOBC Locals in up to 18 sports. It gives athletes the chance to gain sport skills and improve their health while enjoying training that could take them to competitions at local, regional, national, and international levels.
And the benefits from Special Olympics BC programs go well beyond the basics: athletes experience joy and acceptance, cultivate friendships and self-confidence, and feel empowered to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.
- Content courtesy of Special Olympics International, Special Olympics Canada, and specialolympics.bc.ca.
@ Copyright 2013