Special Olympics Arizona 'booming' with worldwide voice

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The 7th Annual Special Olympics Breakfast with Champions took place at the Arizona Biltmore Friday.

3TV's Yetta Gibson had the chance to chat with Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics International. He was the event's keynote speaker.

Shriver's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, created and founded Special Olympics in 1962. Her sister, Rosemary, had an intellectual disability so she saw firsthand how people with intellectual differences were treated. And it made her angry.

Shriver has been involved with Special Olympics pretty much all of his life.

"The movement today is all about acceptable. It's all about dignity," Shriver told Gibson before the breakfast, explaining why the organization is close to not only his heart, but also the hearts of people all over the world. "It's all about how can we work better together. Those are values that are really important to young people today.

"This is a post-stigma age," he continued. "We want to be free to welcome people for who they are. Our movement is all about that freedom and the chance to play out way into a more harmonious future."

Special Olympics debuted in Arizona in 1975.  From its modest start with a one-day track-and-field event with 100 competitors, Special Olympics Arizona has grown tremendously, now offering 22 sports and five statewide competitions for more than 14,000 athletes.

"Special Olympics Arizona is more than just sports," Tim Martin, president and CEO of Special Olympics Arizona wrote on the organization's blog. "[I]t is an opportunity for those with intellectual disabilities to be productive, valued, and appreciated members of society."

Shriver agrees, explaining that Special Olympics is not just a once-a-year event.

"Special Olympics Arizona is one of leading voices in the country -- if not in the world -- on promoting the idea that athletes, people with disabilities are also leaders," he said. "Not just victims. Not primarily people who have challenges. But also leaders -- people who have enormous gifts to contribute to their communities."

"We have the ultimate privilege of getting to play sports with some of the most extraordinary athletes in the world," he said. "Nobody has more fun going to work than we do.

"But we still have an edge," he continued. "There's too much discrimination, too much bullying. There's exclusion in health care, exclusion in education, exclusion in community living, exclusion in employment. We've got a fight on our hands to prove to people in Arizona that people with intellectual differences count just as much as anybody else."

To learn more about Special Olympics Arizona and its programs, visit SpecialOlympicsArizona.com.