There were Special Olympics athletes, officials and parents galore in an overflowing crowd at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon. They were there for a booster shot for their flagship project Unified, which aims to attract and encourage athletes with intellectual disabilities, and to take this concept into schools, work places and social organizations.
This is not to be confused with the Paralympics – which are for people with mainly physical (or occasionally intellectual) disabilities on the teams. The Special Olympics were founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, one of four sisters of President John F. Kennedy, who could not stand and watch the exclusion of her intellectually disabled sister, Rosemary from all the joys in life. It pained her to see that Rosemary who came from such a privileged family, was not invited to anything.
While Kennedy Shriver was battling for the inclusion of people like her sister, Dr. James N. Oliver in England, came to the conclusion based on research that he had conducted that exercise and sport were beneficial to children with intellectual disabilities.
Today, the Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with regular training and holds competitions for more than five million athletes in 172 countries.
Israeli athletes are already looking forward to competing in Abu Dhabi. The Special Olympic Games are in 6 months time
The motto of the Special Olympics is “We play together, we live together.” Among its supporters is judoka Arik Ze’evi, the winner of an Olympic bronze medal and three European championships.
Ze’evi and one of the Special Olympics judokas, Levav Barkan – who in split seconds twice won a match – gave an exhibition that proved that intellectual disabilities are not necessarily an obstacle to physical prowess. He explained that he decided to join Special Olympics because the athletes are not there only to win but to practice mental discipline and engage in hard work. They have a tremendous sense of equality and accept defeat graciously, he said.
Echoing these sentiments, Rivlin said the Special Olympics athletes never give in or give up. If they fail, they simply try again.
Lauding their confidence and their constant exercise, Rivlin said that without these attributes, even the best athlete in the world would fail. “You are trained to know when to make use of your reserved strength” he told the athletes. “You have proved that you can do the impossible and that willpower is the strongest force in nature.
He was glad that more doors are being opened for people with intellectual disabilities and looked forward to the day when the word ‘special’ can be dropped in relation to any intellectual or physical disability. He hoped that people could simply be integrated into society.
David Evangelista, the regional president and managing director of Europe Eurasia Special Olympics said that these Olympics have empowered one of the most marginalized communities in the world. He credited Kennedy Shriver with having taken individuals who were at the bottom of society and given them the title of excellence.
“When we play unified, we live unified and everyone wins,” he added and noted that people with intellectual disabilities can make profound contributions to the world.
Former Education Minister Shai Piron, who is chairman of Special Olympics Israel told the athletes: “We get so much more from you than what we give. You have so much courage and you are prime examples of what you see is what you get. In this cynical world, you give us strength and inspire us with love and compassion.”
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>