May 14, 2015; 14:30-16:00
Remarks by U.S. Ambassador David D. Pearce
Distinguished guests, it is an honor for me and my wife, Leyla, to welcome you to our home today. I’m so proud to celebrate the Special Olympics movement and the ideals of understanding, respect and achievement that the movement promotes throughout the world.
It is also a great pleasure to welcome the CEO of Special Olympics International, Mrs. Janet Froetscher; the Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Los Angeles Games, Mr. Patrick McClenahan; and all the dedicated leaders of Special Olympics International and the Los Angeles Games who are here with us today to escort the Flame to Los Angeles.
And most importantly, I am delighted to welcome the Greek Special Olympians! I wish each of you the best of luck and safe travels this summer when you visit the United States. Καλό ταξίδι, και καλή επιτυχία! (Safe travels, and good luck!)
The Special Olympics began in 1968 as a one-day competition of 1,000 athletes from 26 U.S. states, with only 100 spectators in the stands. It was the brainchild of founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who believed there should be an Olympics for athletes of all abilities. And so, on that day in July of 1968, she recited the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt.”
My younger brother Jonathan, who attended middle school and high school at St. Coletta’s School outside of Boston, competed in some of the early U.S. Special Olympics events. The trip he made to Los Angeles in 1972 was a huge event in his life, and he was immensely proud of the track medals he won during those games. Plus, he became a steadfast, life-long fan of the (then) Los Angeles Rams football team-even when he returned to New England Patriots territory in Maine and Massachusetts.
Special Olympics has soared since it began 47 years ago. Two and half months from now, 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches from 177 countries will be cheered on by 500,000 spectators in Los Angeles. 30,000 volunteers and dozens of sponsors will lend their support. ESPN and thousands of media representatives will bring coverage of the Games to millions of fans around the world.
The Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles will be the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world in 2015. What a change from 1968!
In Greece, Special Olympics Hellas and its president, Joanna Despotopoulou, are working hard to send more than 150 athletes and coaches to the Games in Los Angeles.
Special Olympics is so much more than a sporting event. It breaks down barriers related to ignorance and misunderstanding. Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw the true potential in every intellectually disabled individual. Where other people saw handicap and disadvantage, she saw humanity, spirit, determination, and love of life.
Special Olympics was one of the groundbreaking initiatives that opened the way for a shift of minds, attitudes and laws in our nation. July 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of landmark legislation for civil rights – the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities. It stated clearly its intent “to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.” That legislation changed the way the United States viewed and offered services to people with any kind of disability. It also influenced similar legislation in many countries around the world.
As President Obama noted: “Equal access. Equal opportunity. The freedom to make our lives what we will. These aren’t principles that belong to any one group or any one political party. They are common principles. No matter who we are — young, old, rich, poor, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled or not — these are the principles we cherish as citizens of the United States of America.”
I know that these are also principles cherished by the Greek people and I am happy that I see here today several champions of the rights of people with disabilities.
We owe a lot to you, as we owe a lot to pioneers like Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Special Olympics movement, who taught my nation and the world that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit.
We are proud that this movement was born in the United States. We are overjoyed that the Special Olympics message found true believers and followers all around the world. We are delighted that this summer the United States will host athletes from 176 other nations for two weeks of competitions and festivities.
So let us all celebrate that spirit, the determination of our athletes, coaches and families, the strength and longevity of the Special Olympics movement, and the upcoming World Summer Games in Los Angeles.
I would now like to invite Janet Froetscher, CEO of Special Olympics International; Patrick McClenahan, Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Los Angeles Games; Joanna Despotopoulou, President of Special Olympics Hellas; and American Special Olympian Brett Laza to say a few words.