By Karen Fanning
Filipino athletes Dwight (left) and Delmer practice their 400-meter run in the Philippines this May as they prepare for the Special Olympics Games in Ireland. (Photo: Aaron Favila/AP Wide World)
Even the very first Games, which took place 35 years ago in Chicago, Illinois, attracted a large turnout. Nearly 1,500 athletes from 26 states and Canada competed, testing their skills in athletics, floor hockey, and aquatics. Just two years later, 2,000 athletes from all 50 states, as well as France, showed up for the second Summer Games. In 1977, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, hosted the first-ever Winter Games, with more than 500 athletes competing in skiing and skating events.
Today, both the Summer and Winter Games are held every four years. The international sporting event not only gives the athletes the chance to compete, but also encourages them to put their fears aside.
"Our athletes tell us the Games give them the freedom to be themselves and not be ashamed of their disabilities," says Jo-Ann Enwezor, spokesperson for Special Olympics. "It makes them feel proud."
During the Opening Ceremonies of each World Games, athletes recite the Special Olympics Oath: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." The oath, says Enwezor, captures the spirit of the Games.
"It's not about winning; it's about achieving your personal best," she says. "As long as they try, they have been brave."