From Camp Shriver to the Special Olympics World Games

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Special Olympics motto

Mention Camp Shriver and it is likely you will get a puzzled look. Mention Special Olympics and chances are people  will be familiar with the term, and even they may not know exactly what Special Olympics is all about. The forerunner of Special Olympics, Camp Shriver was started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1962 at her Maryland farm, Timberlawn. It all began when a woman from Bethesda, Md. called up Eunice and told her that she was having trouble finding a summer camp for her child with intellectual disability. The child wouldn’t be accepted into a mainstream camp, and, at that time, the public education system couldn’t figure out what to do with special-needs children never mind supply them with summer activities. Then another woman told her almost the same thing.

Begun as a day camp, the first camp hosted 34 children whom Eunice had invited by asking special schools and clinics in her area to provide names of special-needs children who might be interested. Eunice also recruited high school and college students to act as counselors. The camp gave participants the opportunity to explore their capabilities in a variety of sports and physical activities. The Camp Shriver concept – that through sports people with intellectual disabilities can realize their potential for growth – began to spread, and in July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, USA. One woman’s vision is now a global movement that today serves 3 million people with intellectual disabilities in nearly 200 nations around the world

This year, the International Special Olympics games are being held in Athens, Greece, June 25-July 4, 2011.    The Athens event is being called “The Olympics before the Olympics.” (The 2012 Summer Games are scheduled in London, UK.) In Athens, the 13th Special Olympics World Summer Games will host seven thousand athletes from 180 nations. Thirty sports will be represented over twenty-two venues. Despite the political and economic strife taking place in Greece, the games are expected to take place with minimal disruption. The organizers call the Games the “biggest sporting event in the world this year.” The Games began with a glittering opening ceremony, featuring probably the most famous disabled recording artist in the world, Stevie Wonder.

Every two years, thousands of Special Olympics athletes worldwide come together to showcase their athletic skills and celebrate the spirit of Special Olympics. The Games alternate between Summer Games and Winter Games and bring public attention to the talents and capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics World Games help to change attitudes and break down barriers that excluded individuals with disabilities from the mainstream of the community.

Team USA which will represent the United States consists of 317 athletes and 126 coaches including management team members. A training camp was held March 27-31, 2011 at San Diego State University. The camp offered a variety of coaches meetings and sport-specific training for athletes in athletics, aquatics, basketball, bocce, bowling, bicycling, equestrian, golf, gymnastics, kayaking, powerlifting, sailing, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball. The camp at SDSU was the first time many of the athletes united with their Special Olympics World Summer Games coach and other athletes from all over the nation who will be joining them on their trip to Athens.

On Wednesday, June 22, President Barack Obama announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to Athens, Greece to attend the Special Olympics World Summer Games. The Honorable Dr. Jill Biden will lead the delegation. The delegation includes: The Honorable Daniel B. Smith, U.S. Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic, Department of State; The Honorable Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State; The Honorable Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy; The Honorable Micki Edelsohn, Member, President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities; Mr. Bart Conner, Olympic Champion in Gymnastics, Special Olympics Executive Board Member; and Mr. Kenneth Melvin, Special Olympics Global Manager.

In Athens, the birthplace of modern sport, where the true values of competition were born, the talents and skills of Special Olympics athletes will remind us what the World Games are really about, all who participate are winners in their struggle for respect, inclusion and unity.  To follow the Games, visit,


WINAHEAD is made up of representatives from thirty institutions. Our members are professionals employed by two- and four-year colleges and universities who work directly with students with disabilities to ensure equal access to higher education. WIN indicates the geographic area we represent: Western Iowa and Nebraska. AHEAD is our national parent organization, the Association on Higher Education and Disability.
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