You could trace it back to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, although the Special Olympics are the result of many dedicated people joining to make something special happen.
Eunice started with a day camp she created for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Potomac Maryland, back in 1962. She was concerned with these children having no place to play and used the camp as an example of how people with intellectual disabilities could be involved with physical activity and competition opportunities. Camp Shriver became an annual event.
A Canadian physician, Dr. Frank Hayden became involved. His research showed that persons with intellectual disabilities can and should participate in physical exercise and competition. Dr. Hayden connected with Rose Kennedy and got funding help from the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was head of the foundation. And so it started.
To understand the impact of the Chicago Games let’s take a look at the era. America was deeply divided. We saw young against old, man against woman, black against white, pro Vietnam War, anti War. The Tet Offensive and ‘Nam came into our living rooms. Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated just seven weeks earlier. A month after the Games, Chicago exploded into a maelstrom of violence. Change was happening everywhere.
Chicago Mayor, Richard Daily, who would become a national figure just a month later for ordering his police to beat on the Chicago protesters sounded like a much gentler, forward thinking guy when he said to Shriver, “You know Eunice, the world will never be the same after this.”
The first Special Olympics – as it came to be known – featured 1500 athletes from Canada and the United States and took place at Soldier’s field in Chicago on July 20, 1968.
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities providing year round training and competition for more than 4.4 million athletes in 170 countries.
We can see the next World Games happening this summer, July 25 to August 2, 2015 in Los Angeles California.
Nadia Comaneci on Special Olympics: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nadia-comaneci/special-olympics-athletes_b_7753014.html