10 Facts about the Special Olympics [LIST]

The world’s largest sports organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities opens the playing field - literally and figuratively.

Feb 23, 2015
Special Collections: THE ABILITY IN DISABILITY
Special Olympic athlete crossing the finish line.

Sports is a common ground that can unite people from all different walks of life. [Screenshot]

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of John F. Kennedy and the mother of Maria Shriver, is the heart and creator behind the Special Olympics. Inspired by her sister Rosemary who had an intellectual disability, Shriver saw sports as a common ground that can unite people from all different walks. She had a vision to create a space where people with intellectual disabilities could play and compete – giving them the opportunity to highlight their talents.
The first international Special Olympics was held in July 1968 with 1,000 athletes competing in track and field and swimming. Forty-seven years later the Special Olympics has morphed into a movement that empowers and transforms lives. Learn more about this impressive nonprofit with these 10 eye-opening facts about the Special Olympics.

1. SPECIAL OLYMPICS AND THE OLYMPICS

The Special Olympics is the only organization authorized by the International Olympic Committee to use the word “Olympics” worldwide.

Like the Olympics, the Special Olympics awards medals. [Screenshot]

2. THE GAMES

Athletes compete in 32 sports, including snowboarding, judo, cricket, soccer and more.

Talented athletes from around the world gather to compete. [Screenshot]

3. KEEPING ATHLETES HEALTHY

The Special Olympics program Healthy Athletes offers 1.4 million free health examinations in more than 120 countries to athletes at Special Olympics competitions. Health professionals perform a full exam in the categories of podiatry, physical therapy, audiology, vision, dentistry, physical therapy and more.

The largest public global health organization that serves people with disabilities. [Screenshot]

4. THE GLOBAL REACH 

More than 3.1 million athletes from over 175 countries take part in the Special Olympics.

The Special Olympics brings together people from all over the world. [Screenshot]

5. INSTILLING TEAM SPIRIT

Playing team sports has been shown to build camaraderie and Special Olympics Unified Sports® combines those with intellectual disabilities and those without to play together on a team. Over half a million people worldwide participate.

A Play United team mates celebrating their win. [Screenshot]

6. CELEBRITY SUPPORTERS

World renowned swimmer Michael Phelps, actress Brooklyn Decker, basketball player Damian Lillard and other noteworthy celebs are Special Olympics Global Ambassadors, representing and spreading the message of the organization.

Portland Trailblazer Damian Lillard is a spokesperson for the Special Olympics. [Screenshot]

7. ATHLETIC PROWESS 

Special Olympics athletes are divided to compete in categories based on gender, age, and ability.

A proud winner! [Screenshot]

8. WORDS TO LIVE BY

The Special Olympics athlete oath is "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Teamwork and friendship are the building blocks of the Special Olympics. [Screenshot]

9. COMPETITION TIME

Special Olympics World Games are held every two years, alternating with Summer and Winter Games.

Winter or summer, the games are on! [Screenshot]

10. GET INVOLVED

More than 750,000 people volunteer with the Special Olympics - get in touch with a regional office close to you to see if you’re interested in getting involved.

Volunteer your time with the Special Olympics. [Screenshot]

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