SCHLADMING/RAMSAU, March 27, 2017 - Nearly 3000 athletes, 1100 coaches, 3000 volunteers, 5000 family members, 500 officials. All of them from 110 countries.
Sounds like something big? One man stands behind these numbers. The chairman of Special Olympics – Timothy Shriver.
His mother was the founder of the organization and of the Games for people with intellectual disabilities in 1968. Her name was Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of the 35th US President John F. Kennedy.
Part of a famous family and the holder of the main role in a company. Often these factors could mean one thing - a Chairman disconnected from the people. This is not in the case of Timothy Shriver.
“Honestly it’s just a good time. It’s just people from different parts of the world, different backgrounds, different ability levels, having a good time together. Having fun is important,” said Shriver after participating in unified ski event with the athletes on Thursday.
During the race many times he hugged and motivated some of them with a smile.
Tim Shriver spent 15 years as a teacher, part of them in special education. It was this experience that has helped him see Special Olympics as one big school for everybody.
“I think this is a school. I think it’s a school of attitude, it’s a school of heart, of empathy, of resilience. And these are very powerful qualities to learn and to have in the world today,” said Shriver.
Asked what the athletes will bring home from this school, he replied:
“The main memory is the memory of emotion, of happiness, of joy, of welcome. It’s a magic here. I think they will look back and say these are magical days”
At the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics Winter Games Timothy Shriver went on the stage asking: “Schladming, is this the best night this city has ever had?”
For more than 10 days the region of Styria hosted the Games with honor and dedication. And the Chairman noticed that.
“The people of Austria have been the most welcoming, professional, caring people, we have ever had. They treated our athletes like world class athletes, which is what our athletes deserve. They treated them also with an open heart,” highlighted Shriver.
He joined as Chairman of Special Olympics in 1996. Since then his social work with the Games was awarded numerous times. In 2011 he was recognized by the Huffington Post as one of the top 100 Game Changers. In 2016 he was named to the Oprah Winfrey Network’s SuperSoul 100 list of trailblazers whose vision and life’s work are bringing a higher level of consciousness to the world around them.
“I think we are growing in our number of participants and in our impact on the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. In any understanding at all. But we have a lot of work to do. There is still tremendous discrimination. There is still tremendous isolation and fear of difference. And we have to change that. That’s our mission,” underlined Shriver.
As Chairman of Special Olympics, Timothy Shriver has campaigned against mocking and discrimination and specifically against the use of what he calls “the R word”, meaning retarded. Shriver thinks that this word is very offensive and people with intellectual disabilities should just be respected and treated like all other people.
“For our athletes I’m sad to say almost all the time is hard. Still schools don’t want our athletes, still sports clubs often say no. Still doctors reject them. Still it’s difficult to get a job. It’s difficult to find a teammate. So it’s still very hard times. We have to do better,” said Shriver.
But along with the fears he is confident of the whole idea of Special Olympics. Shriver is sure that every one of the 110 countries, who has representatives in Austria, could host Special Olympics in the future. Even if it is not as economically prepared. Is it all about money?
“We run on spirit more than we do on money. We run on the heart more than we do on the pocket. Any country can host our movement. It’s not about money, it’s about the spirit and can you feel it. I think the other countries will go back saying: we want to host this kind of moment also,” said Shriver.