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July 20, 1968: The First Special Olympics

Image: AP Photo

What started as a phone call from a frustrated mother turned into a call for action. In 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver spoke with a woman who was struggling to find a summer camp that would accept her child with special needs. From that conversation, Shiver turned her own home into a camp that was free of charge for kids with intellectual disabilities. She wanted to focus on the things these children could do, not on what they couldn’t. With each passing year enrollment grew and the camp lasted for four years in Shriver’s own backyard.  

Camp Shriver, as it was called was the beginning of what would become a worldwide movement. On July 20, 1968, the first international Special Olympics were held at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The games were a joint venture between The Kennedy Foundation and the Chicago Park District; and boasted nearly 1,000 athletes from the U.S. and Canada.  

As Eunice Kennedy Shriver opened the event she said, "Today, all of you young athletes are in the arena. Many of you will win, but even more important, I know you will be brave, and bring credit to your parents and your country. Let us begin the Olympics, thank you." 

The Special Olympics is an international community of athletes who are accepted and welcomed for their abilities and their disabilities. 

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