Special Olympians go for the gold

May 5, 2010 4:35:24 AM PDT
Thousands of participants and fans will pack Eckersall Park for the Special Olympics.

The games begin Wednesday and runs through Friday on the city's South Side. But the cheering started Tuesday morning at the opening ceremony at Chicago's Soldier Field. The great Chicago tradition of the Special Olympics is now international

The Special Olympics started in the old Soldier Field 42 years ago. ABC7's Frank Mathie remembers it well. He interviewed a young park district physical education instructor named Anne McGlone, who started the whole thing.

She's Illinois Supreme Court justice Anne McGlone Burke now and married to Alderman Ed Burke. She also remembers that first Special Olympics on July 20th, 1968, well.

"There were about 1,000 special athletes ... about 500 volunteers and there was not one person in the stands," said Justice Burke. Now the event is international and participants number into the millions.

Eunice Shriver and the Kennedy family picked up the torch that Anne McGlone had lit and helped spread the Special Olympics message to the world. It's an event that has changed the lives of so many special athletes.

"It means so much to them. They are very, very talented and they love to show off. And when they get those medals they wear them for weeks and weeks and weeks. It just enriched their lives a hundred fold," said Sr. Rosemary Connelly, exec. dir. Misericordia Heart of Mercy.

From its humble Chicago beginning of 1,000 special athletes, Special Olympics has grown to 3.1 million in participants in 175 countries. And with that growth has come awareness and compassion.

"You know you use the word disabled. Back in '68 the world retarded was used. So I think people are more sensitive now," said Justice Burke.


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