Special Olympics Makes Its Mark in Ames, Iowa
|Dr. Rimmer walks into the Hilton arena in Ames, Iowa with the Indiana Special Olympics team.|
More than 3,000 athletes from all 50 states met for six days of competition in 13 different sports: Aquatics (Swimming), Athletics (Track & Field), Basketball, Bocce, Bowling, Golf, Gymnastics, Motor Activities Training Program (MATP), Powerlifting, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, and Volleyball. What is so amazing about Special Olympics is its ability to unite the world of athletes with intellectual disabilities from near and far-off lands. Started almost 40 years ago by a very talented woman, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics has been handed over to her dedicated and hard-working son, Tim Shriver, who has done a remarkable job assembling a core of dedicated staff and volunteers and bringing the world's largest sports program -- yes, you heard it right, the world's largest sporting event -- serving 2.25 million people with intellectual disabilities in more than 150 countries to the forefront of the national media. Who could have imagined in such a short period of time that 2,256,733 individuals with intellectual disabilities would be participating in Special Olympics throughout the world?
In 1996, Special Olympics began a new focus on going beyond just the Games to improving the 'whole' individual by establishing various health promotion initiatives. The Healthy Athletes program is designed to help athletes improve their health and fitness, leading to enhanced sports experience and improved well-being. This initiative includes such programs as Fit Feet, FUNfitness, Healthy Hearing, Health Promotion, Opening Eyes, MedFest, and Special Smiles. Many health professionals from around the country, including physicians and nurses, donate their time and expertise to this important event.
It is inspiring to know that the primary focus of the Special Olympics is on physical activity and optimal health -- transforming individuals with intellectual disabilities into participants rather than observers -- engaging them in healthy lifestyles through the medium of sports and physical activity so that that they can lead full and productive lives. Special Olympics increases the visibility of people with intellectual disabilities on the world stage. For anyone who has never been to one of these historic events, it is worth the time and effort to witness this social/cultural transformation of an underserved and often marginalized group of citizens. Special Olympics challenges all of us to reconsider how our communities can become more inclusive for people with intellectual disabilities. Margaret Mead once wrote: "If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place." Special Olympics reaches out to every community in America, in hope that through the medium of sport and physical activity, our nation's citizens will begin to understand the value and importance of including people with intellectual disabilities into all facets of life, including work and leisure.