The Special Olympics World Games opening ceremony united people around the world on Saturday night, celebrating the start of a historic event. With over 500,000 anticipated viewers, the World Games will be the largest sports and humanitarian event of the year.
Held in Los Angeles, California, the Special Olympics organization is hosting events for 7,000 athletes from 177 countries over a nine-day timespan. Events include the traditional Olympic games like swimming, gymnastics, volleyball and tennis. They also include some non-traditional events, such as roller skating, bocce ball and handball.
Since their beginning in 1968 in Chicago, Illinois, the World Games have been deemed one of the biggest influencers in representing individuals with intellectual disabilities. This event has been held around the world every other year for the past 47 years.
This year, Michelle Obama officiated the opening ceremony, which included performances by Avril Lavigne and Stevie Wonder.
“You are the special people of the world. You are the ones that will make a difference every single day.”
Other celebrities, including Eva Longoria, Michael Phelps and Justin Bieber, gathered to help celebrate the event, as well.
Making a Difference
One individual who is making a difference through the Special Olympics is 15-year-old Lucy Meyer. Lucy participated in the 2014 Summer USA Special Olympics that were held in New Jersey, bringing home multiple gold medals in the swimming events. She also enjoys bike riding, soccer and skateboarding.
This year, she serves as a 2015 World Games Global Messenger—athletes who have participated in past events responsible for spreading the message and the vision of the Special Olympics. Global Messengers also have a platform to share their own stories of triumph and how the Special Olympics has helped them.
Although she was born with cerebral palsy, Lucy hasn’t let her disability slow her down. She has a passion for helping other children with disabilities and was named the Spokesperson for Children with Disabilities by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in 2013.
Having personally met with President Obama and the first lady, Lucy continues to urge politicians to strengthen the rights of those with disabilities. Lucy has met with members of Congress to advocate for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is an international treaty that serves to protect the rights of any person with disabilities. It also includes the obligations of the states or countries to the disabled in terms of treatment, communication and different accommodations.
When she’s not fighting for the rights of those with disabilities, Lucy speaks at different events to emphasize the importance of acceptance and encouragement of those with disabilities. She and her family recently hosted a party to celebrate some athletes participating in the Special Olympics World Games. Lucy continues to successfully get her message of encouragement and acceptance across to everyone she meets.
“I never tell myself I can’t do something because I have a disability, I don’t think about it at all. I just do it.”
Celebrating Differences Through Sports
The Special Olympics do not only serve as a platform for athletes with special needs, but the events highlight the importance of embracing and celebrating differences. Through events like the Special Olympics, attitudes about individuals with disabilities have changed over the years.
In an article he wrote for the Huffington Post, Special Olympics World Games President and CEO Patrick McClenahan stated: “I know that as people come in contact with our athletes, perceptions change. By celebrating the abilities of our athletes, people see beyond disability and begin to see fellow human beings of great value in the diverse fabric of our communities.”
McClenahan’s 27-year-old daughter Kelly was diagnosed with CP when she was born. Although Kelly spends her days in a wheelchair and needs some extra help with everyday tasks, McClenahan and his family are constantly reminded of the importance of acceptance and inclusion for those with all types of disabilities.
McClenahan has been involved with the Special Olympics for the past 20 years as a volunteer. This year, ESPN became the official broadcaster of the Special Olympic World Games, McClenahan commented that “ESPN’s legacy of work with the Special Olympics and our shared values of athletes first, competition, and unity among others, strengthen the foundation we’re building for the Games and access to them for fans and athletes around the world.”
There is no doubt that these events will help to raise awareness and acceptance, as well as celebrate the accomplishments and abilities of the athletes that are participating this year.