This morning I received a Wall Street Journal alert and saw the “Eunice Kennedy Shriver…” I knew that we had lost a great person. For me it is one of those life moments where I will remember where I was and what I was doing when I “heard” the news.
Special Olympics, the movement she founded, played an important role in my personal and professional formation. As a collegiate baseball player in Wichita, KS, I volunteered at a local event and became hooked. I had the pleasure of interning with Special Olympics, Kansas and helping coach a softball team that went to the International Games in South Bend, IN. I can actually say I was in the stands and heard the speech that Special Olympics International has on their website to honor her and the lives she changed. I get “goose bumps” to this day as I remember that scene.
After those games, I began my professional career with Special Olympics, Texas working with some of the most wonderful volunteers and families I have ever met. The outreach program I worked on was recognized by Mrs. Shriver for excellence and I was honored to get to meet her. In fact, my first professional presentation was at a Special Olympics conference in Reno. I was already nervous as I started, then the room monitor asked me to wait as “we had a few more people coming in.” She came bounding into the room with her husband, Sargent Shriver and sat down in the first row… I remember her laughing at my opening joke about planning and the smile, which eased my nerves.
As I remember her today, I remember all the athletes and families, the volunteers and friends that I met during my Special Olympics involvement. I remember how this movement she began changed lives, provided hope for so many and helped others put their life challenges and concerns into perspective. I remember how honored I have been to be a small part of it.
As I have read some of the stories of her passing, there seems to be two things that jump out at me that I hope to pass along to my children:
1) Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. She knew people were more capable than the experts believed and with the right venue and encouragement gave millions the opportunity to prove it and live it.
2) Your actions are more important than your words. She didn’t just talk about giving she took action and inspired others. Don’t be afraid to take a hands-on approach to giving and making a difference in the world around you – you (one person) are capable of making the world a better place.
To Eunice Kennedy Shriver – thank you for the impact you had on my life and the difference you have made in our world. You will be long remembered – God Bless.