Fifty years ago, Eunice Kennedy Shriver wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post that for the first time shared her family’s personal story—their hopes and struggles on behalf of their sister Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. This Saturday, September 22, 2012, we carry on her legacy to unleash the gifts and talents of people with intellectual disabilities as we celebrate the third annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver (EKS) Day.
At Special Olympics Wisconsin, we believe every day is EKS Day! Special Olympics unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, everyday throughout Wisconsin. Through programming in sports, health, education and community building, Special Olympics is changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by solving the injustice, isolation, intolerance and inactivity they face through out the state. There are many benefits for all who participate in Special Olympics—dignity, pride, joy, justice, fitness, empowerment, friendship, acceptance and community to name a few.
Cindy Bentley is an athlete who realized the benefits of participating in Special Olympics. Cindy was born with an intellectual disability. Her early life was hard, very hard. She was raised in an institution, then placed in foster homes. In school Cindy was called names, teased and made fun of…today we call that bullying. But Cindy had faith in herself and she had hope. She also found Special Olympics. And with the help, support and love of many, Cindy also found herself.
Cindy began to experience success in Special Olympics, winning medals, ribbons, and standing on the awards stands to the cheers of fans. She gained confidence in herself. She had a story to tell and she told it. Cindy became so good at sharing her story that she was asked to speak in public about her life and Special Olympics. People were inspired by what she had to say. Cindy gave people hope that they too could overcome the difficulties in their lives and her message was to never give up hope.
Cindy is also a champion. She has not only won many medals and ribbons, she was also nominated the Special Olympics International Female Athlete of the Year in 1991. In 1996, Governor Thompson asked Cindy to serve on the Wisconsin Council on Developmental Disabilities. In 1999, Cindy was the first athlete elected to the Special Olympics Wisconsin Board of Directors. And in 2000, Cindy was one of 12 athletes from around the world asked to be a Global Messenger travelling throughout the world telling others about Special Olympics. She has been to the White House twice and has met President Clinton and President Bush. And if you haven’t figured it out, Cindy Bentley is also my friend and my hero.
EKS Day should be a reminder to all of us that everyone has value and gifts. Every person should be given the opportunity to reach their full potential. Society should embrace and encourage this. There are many more Cindy’s out there. Let’s find them and help achieve their best.
In the Spirit of Special Olympics,
Dennis Alldridge President & CEO Special Olympics Wisconsin