The Special Olympics of Florida recently made two big announcements. First, they have reached a milestone of 50,000 athletes that have participated in the Florida program since its 1972 inception. Secondly, Orlando has been selected as the host of the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
A contingent of athletes and leaders was recently honored by the Governor and Cabinet for their achievements. Special Olympics Florida provides year-round sports training, competition and health services to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, at no cost to the athletes or their caregivers. It’s a way to help them achieve physical fitness, self-esteem, socialization skills and the life skills necessary to be productive, respected and contributing members of their communities.
The 2022 Special Olympics are expected to bring a whopping $61 million contribution to the economy of the surrounding Orlando area. The announcements come at a time when the U.S. Education Department has proposed budget cuts to the national Special Olympics organization of potentially $18 million, which is about a tenth of its total budget. I want to share the story of quite possibly the most famous Special Olympian.
Loretta Claiborne was a middle child among seven siblings. She was born with an intellectual disability as well as with partial blindness. Despite the odds, her legs eventually carried her across 26 marathon finish lines. Not once, but twice she finished among the top 100 women in the Boston Marathon. At the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games, she was given the opportunity to announce President Bill Clinton. And if all of that weren’t enough, she retains the women’s record within her age group for the 5000 meters at 17 minutes.
As she puts it, “If it weren’t for sports, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I was very angry before and sports was the arena that turned that around for me.”
For Loretta and so many others with physical and intellectual disabilities, the Special Olympics Games provide a positive and safe ground for self-expression. The opportunity to maximize one’s own livelihood through true competition, hard work, and friendship is a principle that’s embedded deeply in the spirit of the Special Olympics.
Have a terrific week,