It all started here in Chicago. Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke was once upon a time only 24-years old when, as a gym instructor for the Chicago Park District, she was selected to organize an event for intellectually disabled people. Burke had no expertise with the special needs population. But the Kennedy Foundation awarded the CPD and Burke a small grant. Thus in July 1968 “on the field and in the largely empty stands of Soldier Field,” writes Tim Shriver in his inspiring book, Fully Alive (Farrar, Straus, 2014), Chicago became the site for the first “national athletic competition for people with intellectual disabilities.” The immensely popular Special Olympics is now, of course, well-known. It has international branches and many related programs and competitions.
At the time Burke and others only suspected what is now common sense: That physical activity increases a person’s ability to learn and to function in other settings. This is generally true for all of us, but this insight along with others changed how the disabled are regarded. Read more