Kennedy Shriver’s Special Olympics

By Stephanie Smith
BU News Service

BROOKLINE — In 1962, the Kennedys were a household name: John Fitzgerald is President, Robert Francis is the U.S. Attorney General, Ted  is an elected U.S. senator, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver is embarking on a mission to change the world’s stigmatization of intellectual disability.

In the 1950s and 60s, Shriver saw unjust and unfair treatment that people with intellectual disabilities were experiencing. She also saw that these children didn’t have a place to play. So in 1962, she opened her own backyard in Rockville, Md., known as Timberlawn, to 50 kids looking for a place to have fun.

Shriver’s passion for developing a program to help those with intellectual disabilities to live a full life likely began when her sister Rosemary had a lobotomy at the age of 23. For the rest of her life she lived incapacitated.

Over the next six summers, Camp Shriver expanded to accept more children, and more volunteers. In 1968, just weeks after her brother Bobby was assassinated, Shriver presided over the first international summer Special Olympic games that were held at Soldier Field in Chicago. With 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 26 states and Canada participating in track and field and swimming events, the Special Olympics was officially established and it has continued for 45 years.

The first international winter games were held in 1977 in Steamboat Springs, Colo., with 500 athletes skiing and skating. Televised accounts of events exposed Americans to people with intellectual disabilities and their ability to live a full and active lifestyle.

Image courtesy Special Olympics

By 1988, the International Olympic Committee officially endorsed and recognized the Special Olympics. The summer and winter games alternate every two years with games being held all over the world.

During the year, these athletes aren’t just waiting for the next Olympic games to come around — they are training and keeping active every day. With more than 4 million athletes participating in Special Olympics activities at both the community and international levels, there are more than 53,000 competitions going on each year.

And in Brookline, where many of the Kennedy children were born, the legacy lives on. Brookline’s team is just one in Massachusetts ready to compete. The Brookline Recreation Center manages the team, providing competitions for every season — basketball in the Winter, aquatics and track and field in the Spring, softball in the Summer, and there’s currently a flag football team in the Fall that practices every Tuesday.

For more on the Brookline team, listen to reporter Nick Koop’s audio story.

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