DE Special Olympics mourns the death of Eunice Kennedy Shriver

    News of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shiver’s death this morning at age 88 was felt across the country, including at Special Olympics Delaware.

    News of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shiver’s death this morning at age 88 was felt across the country, including at Special Olympics Delaware.

    Listen:
    [audio: /delaware/090811tbshriver.mp3]

    “I think the most important thing is to remember that every time a Special Olympics athlete has a medal hung around their neck, from here to forever, it’s going to be because of Mrs. Shriver.” said Special Olympics Delaware spokesman Jon Buzby.

    Kennedy Shriver started Special Olympics in the late 1960’s. Today, Special Olympics estimates it serves 3 million athletes in over 200 countries. In Delaware, over three thousand athletes are involved, including 21 year old Michael Pasquale, who brought home cross country skiing medals from the Special Olympics World Games in Idaho back in February.

    “It’s really fun.” Pasquale said. “It’s really hard to do it, but you have to stay confident, stayed controlled, be yourself.”

    Lessons that Special Olympics Delaware Executive Director Ann Grunert feels help Special Olympians beyond the playing field.  “It carries over into everything they do. They develop a sense of self-confidence, self awareness.  They understand how to be able to be on a team, to win, how to lose. And I think they’re able to take part in everything our community has to offer because of that.”

    Parents of  Special Olympians thank Shriver for providing their children opportunities that they would not have otherwise have.  Karen Marsh’s 8 year old daughter Victoria has Down Syndrome.  This year, she’ll will get her first taste of Special Olympics competition after participating in the organization’s “Young Athletes” program.

    “It’s nice that there is an opportunity for our kids to get together, experience that whole team camaraderie, the thrill of being on a team and participating and the self gratification they can get, and the self esteem.” Marsh said. “ It breaks my heart to know what some of the families had to go through 20 or 30 years ago, when they weren’t given these opportunities, weren’t given the opportunities in school.”

    But Grunert believes Shriver’s legacy goes beyond what Special Olympics provided to its athletes and their families. By engaging volunteers and others, she sees barriers fall.  “There are thousands upon thousands who have had the opportunity to witness those with intellectual disabilities, and probably try to break down some of the misconceptions and misperceptions that they’ve had and recognize that they have tremedous value and gifts.”

    Vice President Joe Biden agrees.  In a statement today, the vice president pointed to all Specials Olympics does as a testament to Shiver’s commitment to those with intellectual disabilities. “Special Olympics – her creation – today provides not only sports opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, but also supports families, provides health screenings and services, educates and engages youth around acceptance and tolerance, and leads a cutting-edge research agenda aimed at improving the well-being of this population… Our hearts are heavy, but full of gratitude for these lasting gifts.”

    “She’s one of a kind. I think we were all blessed to be part of her energy and her vision and her caring.”  Grunert said. “I only hope we can do a little bit of what I think she hoped we would do and that is continue to change the world.”

    For more information on Special Olympics Delaware, you can visit their website.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.