The countdown is on as the world awaits the opening ceremony to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this Friday, August 5th. Coinciding with the beginning of the school year for many of us parents, we’ll likely be extending bedtimes as we cheer on the USA for the next two weeks – after all, we can only do this every four years! However, did you know that the Special Olympics World Summer Games are also held every four years, with the most recent Games being held in Los Angeles last summer?
With more than 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries, the Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, its mission is “to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”
At the local level, Special Olympics is not just an event that takes place every four years. State level programs offer year round sports opportunities to athletes 8 years and older and identified as having one of the following:
- Intellectual disability;
- Cognitive delay as determined by standardized measures such as intelligence quotient or other accepted measures; or
- A closely related developmental disability which means functional limitations in both general learning and adaptive skills.
For example, Special Olympics Indiana offers over 20 Olympic-type sports all year long, impacting nearly 11,000 athletes across the state. Click here to find the Special Olympics program in your Indiana county and learn how to get involved. In addition to Indiana, nearly 40,000 children and adults participate in Special Olympics in North Carolina each year. To learn about volunteer opportunities in North Carolina, click here. In addition, to learn about local programs in South Carolina, click here. You can also find a listing of every Special Olympics program in North America here.