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What are the Special Olympics?

Dana Hinders
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Special Olympics gives athletes, many of whom have conditions such as Down’s Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, an opportunity to demonstrate their skills in 30 different Olympic-type sports. Training takes place on a year round basis and events are held for both summer and winter sports.

Today, the Special Olympics is the largest organization in the world dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities. There are over 200 such programs taking place in 160 countries around the world. Special Olympics events have been held throughout the United States, as well as in countries such as China, India, Rwanda, Japan, Ireland, and Afghanistan.

Participating in these events offers many benefits. Athletes improve their self-confidence, stay physically fit, and develop stronger motor skills while meeting new friends. For many athletes, having a chance to excel at their chosen sport also provides a sense of accomplishment that remains long after the event has passed. However, the Special Olympics' oath of "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt" helps remind participants that the effort they put forth is just as valuable as the results of the competition.

Since the Special Olympics is a non-profit organization, it relies heavily on the support of volunteers. Each year, over 700,000 individuals contribute their time and talents to ensure the success of this memorable event. Parents, friends, teachers, and siblings of athletes are encouraged to volunteer their time in support of the organization. There are also volunteer opportunities for college students, health care professionals, law enforcement officers, amateur athletes, and members of local civic groups.

The Special Olympics has made it easy to provide financial support for the organization as well. It has set up matching gift relationships with thousands of employers from across the United States, allowing interested individuals to double or triple the value of their tax-deductible donations. The organization also accepts donations of frequent flyer miles to help defray the cost of transportation for athletes and their families.

Although the Special Olympics is sometimes confused with the Paralympics, it should be noted that these organizations serve two entirely different purposes. The Paralympics offers elite competition opportunities in 25 different sports for athletes with physical disabilities.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Dana Hinders
By Dana Hinders
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to her work as a freelance writer. After discovering her passion for freelance writing following the birth of her son, Dana has been a vital part of the Sports n' Hobbies team. She also showcases her versatility by creating sales copy and content for e-courses and blogs.
Discussion Comments
By anon994328 — On Feb 01, 2016

This is a great way for these people to be normal. It gives them a sense of being like other people.

By Tomislav — On Sep 16, 2011

@bluespirit - I have seen that Eunice Kennedy Shriver helped a woman named Anne McGlone Burke to "nationalize" this amazing group and event, but the Special Olympics organization considers her their founder.

You should check out the story it is pretty amazing, and plus its interesting to see the picture of Eunice as a younger woman - she looks literally *just* like Maria Shriver. The best place I think to find the full story of its founding as well as to find other special olympics info is if you actually go to the website for the Special Olympics.

By snickerish — On Sep 16, 2011

@bluespirit - When you have the time - go volunteer. I believe you won't be disappointed. The events can have up to thirty sports, making it easy for you to find a sport you feel comfortable volunteering with.

For example there is badminton, basketball, kayaking, judo and even equestrian if you enjoy horses. And I am just getting started. There are various levels of volunteering from coach to someone that helps the day of the big event.

By bluespirit — On Sep 15, 2011

I love the idea of the Special Olympics, but sadly I have never been to the event. I had an opportunity to volunteer with the Special Olympics while I was in graduate school, but because of my schedule I was unable to. I can only imagine how much fun these kids have.

One of the things that I think is special about the Special Olympics is that this is probably one of the first times in these children's lives that they look around and they are the norm rather than the exception.

Did I hear right from the person who was explaining to me what the Special Olympics were (the same person trying to get me to volunteer for the Special Olympics while I was in graduate school) that Eunice Kennedy started the Special Olympics organization?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to...
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