The Special Olympics is one of many lasting legacies of the Kennedy family.
Inspired by one of her sisters who was developmentally disabled, Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1961, soon after her brother John F. Kennedy became president. She launched a crusade to change the way the world treated - or ignored and shunned - people with mental disabilities.
Shriver planted the seed for the Special Olympics in 1963 when she began a summer day camp in the back yard of her Maryland home to explore the sports capabilities of children and adults with developmental disabilities.
From this grew the first International Special Olympic Games, held in July 1968 with 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada. The event was held at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Special Olympics Inc. was established in 1968 as a nonprofit organization in the District of Columbia. Its mission is to provide year-round training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children, 8 and older, and adults with mental disabilities. This training and competition offers athletes opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience the elation of victory, and share their skills and thrills with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
"My favorite thing is being able to watch the joy that the athletes receive from being athletes and participating," said Juneau attorney Fred Baxter, one of the ski officials at the Winter Olympics this week. "It's beyond description to sense the love they have of just doing it. Everybody is a winner."
Today, Special Olympics Inc. is a global organization providing services to more than a million people in 150 countries. World Games are held every other year, alternating between winter and summer sports.
The 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games Alaska kicks off today and continues through March 11 at sporting venues in Anchorage, Eagle River and Girdwood. An expected 2,500 or more athletes and coaches from about 80 countries will compete. P0articipating countries include Azerbaijan, Belarus, Brazil, Chinese Taipei, Costa Rica, Egypt, Greece, Jamaica, Kuwait, Mexico, Monaco, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, Trinidad/Tobago, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.
"It's a great opportunity for all of us - athletes, coaches, volunteers," said Gary Timothy, an alpine ski coach with Juneau's ORCA program since 1994 and father of nine. "I am excited to meet people from other countries. I am sure there will be trading of little tidbits - pins, mementos, etc. - back and forth, and that will be fun."
Alpine skiing events will be held at Alyeska Resort. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing events will take place at Kincaid Park near Ted Stevens International Airport. Snowboarding events will take place at the Hilltop Ski Area, figure skating at the Tesoro Sports Centre and speed skating at the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center in Eagle River.
Special Olympics Alaska is an accredited program of the international organization and serves more than 500 athletes around the state. For details, call (907) 753-2181. Or browse the Web sites listed under Hot Links at juneauempire.com.
Reporter Ann Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com.