Fifty years ago, Eunice Kennedy Shriver wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post called "Hope for Retarded Children." In 1962, fear and misunderstanding surrounded those with special needs. In fact, the subject was often unmentionable. Shriver was one of the first to tackle misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities.
She was a tireless advocate. Her sister, Rosemary Kennedy, had an intellectual disability. I recently had the opportunity to hear Tim Shriver recount how his mother listened to her mother consulting doctors and psychologists, but the outcome was always the same. There was "nothing for Rosemary." No services and no hope.
The Kennedy family eventually institutionalized Rosemary. It is ironic that her active family was thought to be a bad influence on Rosemary's "condition." It would bother Eunice Shriver for the rest of her life.
Today, her vision and determination are apparent through the organization she founded. More than 40 years ago, pioneering athletes and volunteers gathered at Chicago's Soldier Field for the first Special Olympics games. That event would change the world for, and the world's perception of, people with intellectual disabilities.
We at Special Olympics know that every person has value and gifts. In Utah, we host 50 competitive events annually, and our athletes shine and triumph over and over again. Our athletes touch the lives of our staff, coaches, volunteers, and the community with their gifts of spirit, courage, determination, hope and love.
The value of our athletes to this world is immeasurable. I invite you to attend an event as either a spectator or a volunteer. You can experience this joy first hand and find inspiration in the lives of those that society once discarded and discounted.
Special Olympics is more than sports and competition. We promote education and health for all people. We believe every person should be able to reach their full potential and have all members of society embrace this view. We want every person to be free of abuse, marginalization and discrimination.
Shriver championed those, like Rosemary, who did not have a voice loud enough to be heard.
Yet, as we near Eunice Kennedy Shriver (EKS) Day in late September and the 50th anniversary of that Saturday Evening Post article and the first Camp Shriver the precursor to Special Olympics it is sadly apparent that even 50 years later the dignity, inclusion and respect all humans deserve are often still denied to individuals with intellectual disabilities.
At the conclusion of her article, Shriver called others to join the cause and work to improve the lives of others. We invite you to join Special Olympics as a volunteer, participant or donor. Special Olympics is now serving almost 180 countries with 4 million athletes strong.
We also invite you to celebrate the legacy of Eunice Kennedy Shriver by being hopeful, compassionate and having a vision for the abilities of all people.
Amy L. Hansen serves as president and chief executive officer of Special Olympics Utah. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.sout.org to learn more about Special Olympics in Utah.