Special Olympics Brings Chairman To Celebrate 30 Years

Paul Takahashi

By Paul TakahashiThe Daily Northwestern

Volunteers should focus on recognizing positive aspects of volunteering, said Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, Inc. during Monday’s speech at Ryan Family Auditorium.

“What are you getting back?” Shriver asked the audience of about 50 students and athletes. “I get to the point where I realize it’s not about duty or guilt or recognition or pity, but it’s about these athletes who are showing all these values: courage, determination, exuberance and openness.

“I shifted from seeing the athlete as someone who needs my help into the athlete as an inspirational figure,” he said.

Northwestern Special Olympics celebrated its 30th anniversary by bringing the chairman to campus. Shriver shared his views about the plight of athletes around the world.

“I wish I could say that this is a beautiful story but it isn’t,” Shriver said. “In Romania, there’s no education for people with special needs. In the United Kingdom, one of the most advanced economies in the world, 11 percent of people with intellectual disabilities are in paid employment, which is about the same here in America.”

Although Shriver recognized the “really tough story” special needs athletes face in the world, he encouraged the audience to focus on “the real nice story of people with special needs.”

“We must be honest and real about the level of despair … neglect … oversight and … repression that still exists,” he said.

Shriver told motivational stories about the athletes of Special Olympics and how uplifting their stories are to him.

“When these athletes were born, when they tried to go to school, when they tried to make friends, it was tough,” Shriver said. “Moms (and) dads had to fight for them. Every one of them had to struggle to get to that starting line.”

The chairman of the international organization, which spans over 165 countries and attracts 2.25 million athletes worldwide, told stories from his nine years with Special Olympics.

Shriver shared a story about two schools in Slovakia: one was a “regular” school, the other was a “special” school. He said students at the two schools had never interacted with each other, but after starting a unified sports program, the opinions held by “regular” students about the special needs children changed.

Students at the “regular” school stopped taunting students at the “special” school and forged friendships through sports, Shriver said.

“The greatest, most prevalent problem facing the world today is our fear and indifference to each other and the cynical belief that we can’t do anything about it,” Shriver said.

He outlined an initiative to ban the word “retard” from daily vocabulary to bring tolerance about people with special needs.

“Language controls and informs the way we think,” he said. “The ‘R’ word is a dismissive and pejorative way to characterize people.”

Audience members said they were touched by Shriver’s message and energized for the track and field competition Saturday.

“I loved it,” said Julie Keller, Special Olympics president and a SESP senior. “It was incredible to witness so much commitment, passion and fervor tonight.”

Burgwell Howard, assistant to the vice president for student affairs, said he was inspired by Shriver’s speech.

“To have the chairman come and recognize Special (Olympics’) 30-year anniversary is outstanding,” Howard said. “He’s made me a believer.”

Reach Paul Takahashi at [email protected]