The Special Olympics World Games are going on right now in Seattle, Washington. The Special Olympics began as a summer day camp in 1962 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver (sister of JFK). Special Olympics events occur worldwide every day, but 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the first World Games (which occur every 2 years, alternating between summer and winter events).
The mission of the Special Olympics is to shift the focus from disability to ability through the power of sport. Thousands of athletes have descended upon Seattle to showcase their talent, raise the awareness about people with intellectual disabilities, and inspire their communities.
Unique to the Special Olympics is the concept of “divisioning.” Within sports, participants are split into competition divisions based on gender, age, and ability. This creates equal competition and encourages participation from athletes of all levels of ability.
Another way the Special Olympics promotes inclusion is through Unified Sporting Experiences. In competition, teams are comprised of people with and without intellectual disabilities of the same skill level. This week they are also holding youth unified sports camps for soccer, volleyball, and other sports. It’s great to see kids of all ages having fun and being inclusive.
PQ and I volunteered at the tennis courts and it was such a great experience. We were court captains and we got to see athletes of varying abilities compete and be celebrated by friends and family. In tennis, divisioning was manipulated using different balls (balls that compress more than regular balls don’t move as fast), a shorter court for certain divisions, and unified partnerships.
By far my favorite part of volunteering and simply being around the campus where events are happening is seeing the athletes supported by friends, family, and strangers. The buzz of competition is real, and these athletes are doing great things and having the time of their lives.
If you’re in Seattle this week, I encourage you to try and make it to an event.