How Special Olympics offers hope
One definition of hope is to believe in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life, believing that a better or positive outcome is possible even when there is some evidence to the contrary. The whole purpose behind Special Olympics is to provide people with intellectual disabilities, both young and old alike, the opportunity to train and compete in various sports year-round, with the ultimate goal being the World Summer or World Winter Games every two years. The Special Olympics relies on community involvement and volunteer support. With all that Special Olympics do, how can they possibly offer hope?
Special Olympics offers hope at the start of each competition. Each competition begins with a torch run in which officers and athletes run the «Flame of Hope» to the opening ceremonies of local Special Olympics competitions, state/provincial games, National Summer or Winter Games, and every two years the World Games.
Special Olympics offers hope in empowerment, the very foundation upon which Special Olympics was formed. Empowering people with intellectual disabilities to realize their full potential and develop their skills. Ultimately they discover not only new abilities and talents, but they discover the courage and confidence within to have a dream, a purpose, a direction, and a commitment without.
Special Olympics offers hope in becoming fulfilled and productive members of their families and the communities in which they live. They develop friendships and enjoy the rewards of these friendships. These athletes discover a «voice» they thought they never had. A voice that allows for the power to make choices (not just yes/no, either/or); a voice to make a difference; a voice to express their rights; and a voice to effect change in not only their own lives, but within the community.
Awareness is the first step towards change. Special Olympics promote awareness every time they have an event, and, as communities get involved, attitudes change. Other’s perceptions of these athlete’s competency and capacity to act change. The social perception of people with intellectual disabilities change. As change occurs, something miraculous happens. These athletes with intellectual disabilities are no longer considered inferior to «normal people», they are no longer felt sorry for, and barriers are broken down.
Children and adults with intellectual disabilities who participate in Special Olympics exhibit courage and enthusiasm and experience joy. They learn how to win and lose. They learn that winning isn’t everything. They learn how to be a team player. They learn how to encourage and cheer on their teammates as well as their opponents. They have the benefit of continuing opportunities for physical fitness, growth, and change that is never ending and self-initiated. That’s the flame of hope that burns inside, which each athlete takes with them at the end of the day.