Teams walk in for the start of the first-ever Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Special Olympics: Celebrating 50 years of inclusion and inspiration

In the 1960s, children and adults with intellectual disabilities lived in the shadows of society.

Fifty years ago, the world began to change for the better for millions of people with intellectual disabilities — and for all those who love them.

In the 1960s, children and adults with intellectual disabilities lived in the shadows of society. They were hidden away in homes or institutions.

Many didn’t have the chance to go to school, to work or to play. No one encouraged them to become a part of the community.

Intellectual disabilities were tragically misunderstood. Children and adults were trapped in a cycle of neglect and suffering.

Few imagined that this segment of society could acquire athletic and social skills or possibly benefit from the therapeutic value of sport and exercise. Few people conceived the notion that sport could further their development.

Then, one day in July 1968 the world began to change. The forerunner of Special Olympics, a day-long citywide track meet held in Chicago’s Soldier Field for people with special needs, put a bright – and very public – spotlight on ability, not disability.

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The 1968 event is described as “daybreak” — the early stirring of a global movement for people with intellectual disabilities. No longer trapped in the shadows, the Chicago games made it possible for the athletes to compete and have fun – not to be stigmatized.

In the months and years that followed, centuries of prejudice and misunderstanding slowly began to melt away. When people saw the passion, skill, and dedication of Special Olympics athletes at competition, windows of understanding opened. Their eyes were widened and their attitudes changed, not just about what those with intellectual disabilities can do, but also about what they themselves can do to help build a better world.

Now, 50 years after the first Special Olympics Games on Soldier Field, Greater Vernon will play host to an equally important and inspirational event. The 2019 Special Olympics BC Winter Games will take place Feb. 21 through 23, 2019. Over 1,000 volunteers from the Greater Vernon area will be needed to host these Games, and the Games Organizing Committee is actively seeking donors and sponsors to ensure that financial barriers do not limit the participation of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Get involved in something that will inspire you and positively impact your life. Volunteer or donate to the 2019 Special Olympics BC Winter Games. Visit for information on how you can get involved, or to learn more about the Games. These Games will be a celebration of 50 years of inclusion and inspiration.

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A medal ceremony at the first Special Olympics event in 1968.

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