Special Olympics Florida is celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2017. As we look back, we can see how our organization has not only grown, but has also been a powerful voice for people with intellectual disabilities in Florida for almost half a century.
The work and dedication of so many athletes, families, coaches, volunteers, sponsors, staff, and fans have brought about incredible strides of inclusion and respect for a community that has been historically stereotyped and cast aside.
What started as a handful of athletes in Okaloosa County who were inspired by Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision has now grown to more than 38,000 athletes supported by 27,000 volunteers in the Sunshine State.
Forty-five years ago, few knew the potential hiding within people with intellectual disabilities like Down syndrome or autism. Today, the world can see our athletes are thriving on and off the playing field.
Special Olympics Florida not only provides sports training and competition, but also vital health services that allow each athlete to live a more active, healthy lifestyle. Our athletes are also taking on more involved roles and leadership positions in their schools and communities. Recently one of our athletes competed in a high school speech competition, lending her voice and opinions as equal with her peers. Also this month, athletes traveled to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to advocate for Special Olympics to members of the state legislature and U.S. Congress.
Reflecting on our past allows us to see the incredible progress Special Olympics Florida has made, but also inspires us for the future. We know there are hundreds of thousands of people in our state with an intellectual disability who are not yet participating in Special Olympics Florida, so we have much work still to do.
Thank you to all who have been a part of the Special Olympics Florida family over the course of 45 years. We also challenge you to help us as we continue to grow the number of athletes we serve, strive to provide the highest quality programs, and create a more inclusionary world.