I had steeled myself for sadness before attending my first Special Olympics local event in Tampa, Fla., during the early '90s. I thought it would be tough to watch athletes with Down syndrome, autism and other intellectual disabilities race and jump and throw in competition. I had it all wrong.
I can remember a competitor named Cindy, who tore down the track with all her might and then broke into a full-on giggle as she crossed the finish line, second out of six, to medal. And doesn't that kind of response define sports? Effort matched with the joy of achievement? Cindy was like any athlete, anywhere. And this is what
She will be missed but will forever remain as the barrier breaker whose 40-year campaign put the spotlight on millions of athletes across 180 countries. Without her relentless lobbying, it is very possible that those with mental challenges would still be hidden from view, institutionalized instead of embraced. Without her access to the halls of political power, those children who lived life being called "retards" by the misinformed and unfeeling wouldn't have had a voice.
Shriver didn't pick this cause as much as the cause picked her. Inspired by her mentally disabled sister
There are a few celebrities and influential power brokers -- and, let's face it, some athletes -- who take on charity work for what it does for them and their image. I have been to Habitat for Humanity projects where star players arrive on the work site for the cameras, hammer a nail and leave. Shriver pushed her philosophy and philanthropy with work gloves on. She could be seen assembling medal platforms, lifting banners and moving high-jump bars into place. She could be heard working donors for support and shouting encouragement to sprinters at the games.
"She never gave less, never lowered her standards or lowered her ideals,"
There was no pretense to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the fifth of nine children of