7 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Special Olympics

Sports bring out the champion in everyday people who contend with extraordinary circumstances.

Right now, the best athletes in the world put forth unimaginable efforts in order to take home the gold at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. We watch transfixed, with only a minimal sense of the preparation and tenacity it takes to perform these feats. Imagine then, the level of commitment it takes to compete in judo or snowboarding for someone with a disability, and the Special Olympics is an equally profound example of human spirit.

If someone in your family has a disability, you know firsthand the kinds of challenges these folks face, whether it’s getting basic tasks accomplished or overcoming social stigma. In honor of the tremendous achievements of special needs athletes, here is a little background on the Special Olympics and how it serves to highlight a segment of our society that has historically been very misunderstood.

  1. The first Special Olympics was held in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, John F. Kennedy’s sister1. Shriver saw sports as a unifying element that could provide common ground for people from all walks of life, and her vision was inspired by her sister Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. Back in the late 50s, people with disabilities were discouraged from sports and Eunice made it her mission to change that.
  1. The first games had only swimming and track, but now special needs athletes compete in 32 sports1. What started out as a very small competition has transformed into a worldwide movement with the aim of educating the public and empowering those with special needs.
  1. The organization’s non-profit status allows it to provide health care to 1.7 million people. The broader goal of healing a disenfranchised part of the global population has helped improve quality of life for special needs athletes2.
  1. Special Olympics games take place every two years. Competitors with both intellectual and physical disabilities come together to test their skills at winter sports, tennis, equestrian events, and even triathlon!
  1. The organization now supports athletes in 170 countries!2 The movement now reaches special needs families in China, many countries in Africa, and the Middle East.
  1. These games prove that we underestimate people with disabilities. The primary purpose of the Special Olympics is to raise awareness and expectations for both society at large and those with physical or intellectual impairments. These courageous people demonstrate what it means to overcome obstacles.
  1. Many competitors go on to lead more full, independent lives. As a direct result of their participation in the games, Special Olympics athletes get involved in youth outreach, coaching, mentoring, and other beneficial involvement that helps others to become more self-sufficient.

If you are the parent to a special needs child, the Special Olympics can serve as a powerful inspiration tool for your family. There are many ways to get involved and show your child that he or she can achieve great things. We owe it to our special needs athletes to acknowledge the integrity it takes to get out on a world stage and compete. It takes guts and we should all be proud.

For more information, visit: http://www.specialolympics.org/.





  1. http://www.goodnet.org/articles/10-facts-about-special-olympics-list-1
  2. http://www.specialolympics.org/

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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