Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Our Founder

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics, was a pioneer in the worldwide struggle for rights and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities.

One Woman’s Vision

Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed in justice. But, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she saw little justice in the way people with intellectual disabilities were treated.  She saw they were excluded and routinely placed in custodial institutions. They were often ignored and neglected, yet she knew they had many talents and gifts to offer.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a sister, Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. She and Rosemary grew up playing sports together and with their family. The sisters swam, they sailed, they skiied, they played football together. But in those days, there were limited programs and options for someone like Rosemary.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver went on to become an athlete in college. She began to see that sports could be a common ground to unite people from all walks of life.

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Camp Shriver

Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else, they could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible.

She put that vision into action in 1962 by inviting young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp she hosted in her backyard. She called it “Camp Shriver.” The goal was to explore the children’s skills in a variety of sports and physical activities. The idea behind that first Camp Shriver began to grow. In July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

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In her remarks at the Opening Ceremony, she said the inaugural Chicago Special Olympics prove “a very fundamental fact” — that children with intellectual disabilities can be exceptional athletes and that “through sports they can realize their potential for growth.” She pledged that this new organization, Special Olympics, would offer people with intellectual disabilities everywhere “the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow.”

What began as one woman’s vision evolved into Special Olympics International — a global movement that today serves 5.7 million people with intellectual disabilities in 172 countries.

Message of Hope

Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaks at the 1987 Special Olympics World Summer Games in South Bend, Indiana, USA. More than 4,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from more than 70 countries took part in these Games. At the Opening Ceremony, she tells them: “The right to play on any playing field? You have earned it. The right to study in any school? You have earned it. The right to hold a job? You have earned it.”

Honored at The ESPYS

On July 12, 2017, Eunice Kennedy Shriver received the Arthur Ashe Award For Courage at The ESPYS.  Her son, and our Special Olympics Chairman, Tim, accepts the award and calls out the work that still needs to be done with equality towards people with intellectual disabilities.  Three Special Olympics Florida athletes were proudly on stage with Tim during his acceptance speech, and also received Honorary ESPYS awards. 

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July 20 – Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day is an annual celebration of her life and a global call challenging everyone to “Choose To Include”.  This invitation stems from Mrs. Shriver’s teaching that on the playing field, we forget about our differences and recognize our mutual humanity.   All year long, but especially on this day, we celebrate the legacy and vision of our Founder, and invite you to join us and change the game for inclusion

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