I AM honoured to see every day how Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s work continues to transform the lives of millions of people with intellectual disabilities, and their families.
This week last year the world lost a remarkable woman and a dear friend of Ireland in Eunice.
On the first anniversary of her passing tomorrow, it is fitting to honour her and to celebrate her lasting legacy.
Deeply inspired by the struggle of her own sister Rosemary, she set out 42 years ago with one vision: a world in which people with intellectual disabilities are fully integrated into society.
The Special Olympics has grown from that day to what it is today — a global movement of 3.5 million athletes in over 170 countries in all regions of the world dedicated to promoting respect, acceptance, inclusion and human dignity for people with intellectual disabilities through sport. In Europe/Eurasia, there are 500,000 athletes across 58 countries.
Her passion for the Special Olympics movement she founded is one that happily coincided with her great love for Ireland.
It was here in 2003 that the world games were first held outside the United States. It was a great gift to Ireland and seven years on the effect of those games on the nation is still fresh in our hearts and minds.
Through the common and simple vehicle of sport, Special Olympics is helping to bring about attitudinal change in the way people with intellectual disabilities view themselves and are viewed and treated by others, replacing misunderstanding and fear with respect, acceptance and inclusion.
Communities, sponsors, volunteers, coaches, spectators, journalists and all those who have been embraced by Special Olympics athletes find that the experience opens their eyes and minds and changes their lives forever.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver leaves this profound and lasting legacy on the world. Not only has Special Olympics changed millions of lives but it has a real impact beyond sport, helping shape public policy and effect social change.
I know I speak for everyone at Special Olympics Europe/ Eurasia when I say we are committed to working tirelessly to continue her work and to bring her powerful vision to life; to change the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, using sport as the catalyst for respect, acceptance and inclusion.
This year is an exciting one for Special Olympics. Next month, we will celebrate the 2010 Special Olympics European Games in Warsaw, Poland, and in June 2011 we will celebrate the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece.
Both events will provide strong platforms to raise awareness of our movement and showcase the abilities and spirit of our athletes. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a frequent visitor to games and competitions in Europe/Eurasia, inspiring us all with her energy, her unfailing commitment and, above all, her enormous love for the athletes.
While the World Summer Games take place every four years and the European/ Regional Games take place every two years, it is important to be aware that Special Olympics happens every day with more than 30,000 competitions taking place year round in communities worldwide.
I believe the world right now is hungry for what we have at Special Olympics.
Everywhere you look, people are hungry for authenticity. There is a crisis in trust everywhere. People are asking: how can I make a difference and feel a part of something bigger?
At Special Olympics we are uniters. Our athlete, family and volunteer stories inspire, entertain, energise, change attitudes and break down barriers to inclusion and friendships.
Corporations sponsor Special Olympics because they share our brand values and our programmes touch so many people so positively.
Funding is always an issue for us and we continually seek new corporate partnerships to support our mission and continue Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision.
Last year the European Commission made an unprecedented commitment to Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia by granting €6m .
This much-needed funding allowed us to empower, through sports, more and more people with intellectual disabilities across Europe, while also changing attitudes and creating a more inclusive and accepting world for all of us.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver devoted her life to fighting for the rights of those with intellectual disabilities. She opened her home, she coached and above all, she was a friend. She demonstrated an indomitable spirit in action.
The first ever Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day (EKS Day) will take place on September 25 this year. Hundreds of events will happen around the world, including Ireland, to celebrate her life and impact and to encourage new fans of Special Olympics.
The Shriver family hopes EKS Day will become an annual event across the globe. To quote Tim Shriver, CEO of Special Olympics International and son of Eunice: “I cannot think of a more fitting way to celebrate my mother’s life and legacy than to encourage acts of volunteerism that will teach people to see their peers with intellectual disabilities as classmates, teammates, colleagues, friends and most importantly, as equals. Ultimately, I hope that this day will put us one step closer to the world she envisioned.”
Eunice Kennedy Shriver was an outstanding leader in the worldwide struggle to improve and enhance the lives of people with intellectual disability.
Tomorrow, I ask you to remember this remarkable woman on the first anniversary of her death and embrace the Special Olympics movement she founded so that every person with intellectual disabilities is accepted and included in society without fail.
Mary Davis is managing director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia
- Mary Davis
Irish Independent 10th August 2010