On July 25th, athletes from around the world gathered in Los Angeles to compete in several high-tier events at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games. The participants, all of whom have intellectual disabilities, represented their home countries proudly at one of the biggest sporting events. The lavish event, one of the biggest Special Olympics in the games’ history, pulled out all of the stops. According to Patrick McClenahan, chief of the organizing committee, “L.A. will create the world stage where the athletes can perform, show their skills and courage and determination and sportsmanship and as a result of that people come in contact with them and their perceptions change that leads to an awareness that leads to more inclusion and acceptance into the community.” The opening ceremonies included performances by Stevie Wonder and Avril Lavinge, with a special appearance by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Founded in 1968 by Eustice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics is the world’s largest sporting group for adults and children with intellectual disabilities. The organization holds training year-long for athletes of all abilities, with nearly 4.4 million people participating each year all over the world. Shriver, whose sister Rosemary Kennedy had intellectual disabilities, has stated that while her sister has inspired her to fight for disability rights, “The games should not focus on one individual.” The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago that year with 1,500 participants from the United States and Canada. By comparison, the 2015 Summer Games in Los Angeles drew thousands of delegates from over 100 countries.
The goal of the Special Olympics is to encourage physical and emotional health among those with intellectual disabilities while at the same time encouraging acceptance and understanding of people of differing abilities. There are 32 different Olympic-style events that participants can compete in, including aquatics, soccer, tennis and even sailing. By working as a team and receiving positive support and coaching, participants are able to gain self-esteem while also staying active. The Special Olympics also strives to promote the idea of Unified Sports, wherein training together and playing together can create a path to friendship and understanding among those with disabilities and the general public.
With this year’s event in Los Angeles, more awareness and excitement has been generated about the Special Olympics than ever before. The week-long celebration of sports and diversity was the biggest event to occur in LA since the Summer Olympic Games in 1984 and was covered on ESPN for the first time. It is believed that due to the great success of this year’s Special Olympics World Summer Games that future events will only bring about more enthusiasm and support for athletes of all abilities.
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