An Interview with Special Olympics Chairman, Tim Shriver

On July 12, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2017 ESPY Awards (Excellence in Sport Performance Yearly). Although given at a sports award show, the Arthur Ashe Courage Award honors people who reflect the spirit of Arthur Ashe, a professional American tennis player, by possessing “strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril, and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.” (Read more about the award here). Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics and her son, accepted it on her behalf.

My family and I watched the ESPYs when they aired, and because I had previously met Tim at the 2017 World Games, I was recently able to interview Tim about his experience, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.

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The Olympics of Blogs: Was it hard to accept the award on behalf of your mother?

Tim Shriver: I wouldn’t say it was hard. I would say it was meaningful. I wanted to do her justice, and I wanted to try with everything I had to carry her message, which gave me a real sense of the weightiness of the moment. Even though it’s an ESPY, and even though it’s about sports, and it’s fun and exciting and all that, I felt it was a serious moment also, a moment for her voice to be heard and seen by people all over the world in sports. So I wanted to do my best and even then, a little better. That was challenging, but I was happy to have the opportunity to give my best shot.

The Olympics of Blogs: I had fun watching it! My family and I watched it all decked out in Special Olympics gear.

Tim Shriver: Great! That’s so fantastic.

The Olympics of Blogs: What do you think your mom would have thought about winning the Arthur Ashe Award?

Tim Shriver: I think two things. She would have thought [of] how much she loved Arthur and how proud she was. She would have been so proud to win it and probably a little shocked. And then I think she would have probably also had a little sneer because she always was a little bit impatient. And she would have said, “It’s about time.” Not because she deserved it, but because the Movement deserved it. So she would have received it with a lot of joy and a little bit of urgency to keep the ball moving forward. She didn’t really like awards because they took away from the work of moving things forward from her point of view. Now that she’s not here, we can take awards and relax a little bit because she deserves it.

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Michelle Obama presented the award to Tim Shriver while he was on stage with Special Olympic athletes.

The Olympics of Blogs: According to Daina Shilts on her ESPY diary for Special Olympics Wisconsin, she said you didn’t read the teleprompter when you got the award. Why didn’t you?

Tim Shriver: I didn’t know Daina wrote that. <Laughed> I just got going. I wanted to speak from my heart. I was prepared. I knew what was on the teleprompter, but I didn’t want to be trapped by it. I wanted to feel the moment. I wanted to be there in the moment, not just be reading what I prepared before the moment.

And I thought going up, one of the things that wasn’t on the script was to recognize the athletes by name, and I just felt like I couldn’t stand… I wanted them to be seen as individuals, as Daina, as Loretta, as all those people who were there. So I just went off the script. I didn’t want to stick to it.

The Olympics of Blogs: It was really powerful. I could tell you were speaking from the heart too.

Tim Shriver: Thank you.

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Outside the ESPYs

The Olympics of Blogs: How were athletes chosen to receive local ESPY awards?

Tim Shriver: Mostly by our local leaders. We didn’t have a big elaborate process, but we invited our local CEOS and board chairs to pick folks who they felt were in the spirit of both my mother and the ESPY award. We let them choose the people they thought best embodied the ideals.

The Olympics of Blogs: What is your favorite Special Olympics moment of all time?

Tim Shriver: That’s tough… I mean Donal Page in Ireland [Page is an athlete who competed in the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP) at the 2003 World Games in Ireland]. Doing the motor activities was certainly in the top 3. You know, Ramadan… running the 10K in Tanzania was in the top 3. Gosh, it’s tough, that’s a very tough one for me. Loretta Claiborne addressing President Clinton in 1995 even though it wasn’t an athletic moment. I mean, my own kids playing Unified. The first time we had a Unified game with my children all participating, I think that was probably number one in some ways because I could see all five of my kids at different ages growing. Their hearts just bursting with growth and opportunity and joy and insight and wisdom [while they’re] just shooting baskets. I don’t know… that’s a tough one.

The Olympics of Blogs: Those are all really good ones! Wow.

Tim Shriver: <Laughed> Yeah.

The Olympics of Blogs: How have you been inspired by the athletes of Special Olympics?

Tim Shriver: Well, I think I’ve been inspired to take chances, to be less afraid of the judgment of others, to trust in my own goodness and in the goodness of the human spirit more. If you see the world as I try to see the world through the eyes of the athletes of Special Olympics, you see a much more welcoming and joyful and ultimately beautiful world, and I try to see through those eyes more and more, and I think many of the athletes have given me the chance to… Just got an email this morning from my Smile Coach Martha Hill, and you know, I smiled for about a half an hour just looking at it.

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Martha Hill

The Olympics of Blogs: What’s a Smile Coach?

Tim Shriver: Smile. She and I just came up with that because she was a Global Messenger, and she was in Shanghai giving speeches. Every time she’d give a speech, she would just have this huge smile on her face, and I was like, “I need someone to help me learn how to smile like you.” And she said, “Well, I’ll be your smile coach.”

The Olympics of Blogs: That’s so sweet.

Tim Shriver: So, I guess maybe that’s the simplest answer. The athletes of Special Olympics have helped me learn to smile more.

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Tim Shriver in his office with the award

The Olympics of Blogs: That’s so nice. If your mother could see Special Olympics now, what do you think she would say?

Tim Shriver: Keep moving. There’s still a lot of injustice in the world. Keep moving.

The Olympics of Blogs: How has your mother inspired you?

Tim Shriver: My mother, she was so smart, and she inspired me to try to be smarter. She was so fearless that she’s inspired me to want to be fearless. And she so trusted her gut. She trusted what she thought was true about the world regardless of what anybody said. And that capacity to trust what you believe deep, deep, deep in your heart is true. I mean, you have to find it, but once you find it, trust it. That’s a huge gift, and she’s made me try to do all those things. Be more fearless, be smarter, and trust my gut more. I’m not where she was, but um…

The Olympics of Blogs: You’re doing pretty well.

Tim Shriver: I’m growing. <Laughed> Thank you.

The Olympics of Blogs: What are your future goals for Special Olympics?

Tim Shriver: I’d like to have Special Olympics Unified Sports in every school in the world. I’d like to have every child grow up in the world with a chance to either play, volunteer, or coach a Unified team. Every child. Because then we’d all have the foundation. We’d all have the basic understanding of the fact that everybody has gifts. And that’s the biggest insight I think in life. Everybody has gifts, and you forget it. We all forget it from time to time.

As the interview ended, I presented Tim with the resolution I had passed (click here to read about it) recognizing July 20, 2017, as Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day in Pennsylvania.

After I gave it to him, he said, “Oh my god, you’re kidding. Wow. <Laughed> Wow! I didn’t know this… State Proclamation. Wow. Isn’t that great? Look at that. You got this done. See what I mean? Amazing. Beautiful.”

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Me with the award!

Getting to interview Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics, was really exciting for me. I was so happy to be able to learn more about his experience at the ESPYs. Together, he and his mother have created such an amazing organization, and I have no doubt that in another 50 years, Special Olympics Unified Sports will be in every school in the world just like he said. Check back on my blog soon because Tim Shriver was nice enough to allow me to see Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s office!

You can watch Tim Shriver accept the ESPY Award below!

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Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day

On July 20, 1968, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, held the first ever international Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field in Chicago. Approximately 1000 athletes from 26 U.S. states and Canada competed in three sports: track and field, floor hockey, and swimming.

After the Games, then Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said, “You know, Eunice, the world will never be the same after this.” And it never was. Today, there are 4.9 million athletes who participate in Special Olympics in 223 national and U.S. programs in 172 countries, and there are over 1 million coaches and volunteers.

This past July 20, Special Olympics celebrated Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day as a way to recognize her achievements and her legacy on the forty-ninth anniversary of the first international Special Olympics. To celebrate, I decided to draft a resolution recognizing July 20, 2017, as Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day in Pennsylvania.

After drafting the resolution, I went to the Pennsylvania State Capitol, and even though the House of Representatives wasn’t in session, they were still working. While waiting for them to return from meetings, I found this painting in the Capitol showcasing Pennsylvania’s relationship with Special Olympics. It’s “Rare Halo Display: A Portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver” by David Lenz.

I asked Representative Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) to sponsor my resolution, and he was honored. In 2013, he had won the John F. Kennedy Memorial Award because of his efforts as an advocate for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, individuals with mental illnesses, and the importance of drug and alcohol treatment and prevention.

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Left to Right: Representative DiGirolamo, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and Tom Dunkin, Chairman of the Board of the Northeast Community Center for Behavioral Health

In total, the resolution had 30 co-sponsors in addition to Representative DiGirolamo. Because he had to wait for the House to come back into session, the resolution was unanimously adopted September 11! Click here to read it.

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Thank you to Representative DiGirolamo, my dad, and the co-sponsors for all their hard work in helping me get this resolution passed!

Paris 2024 and LA 2028!

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The bids’ leaders celebrate with IOC President Thomas Bach.

On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee met in Lima, Peru, and voted for Paris to host the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics and for Los Angeles to host the 2028 Olympics and Paralympics. After the vote, IOC President Thomas Bach said, “this is a win-win-win situation for Paris, Los Angeles, and the entire Olympic Movement.” The IOC and the two bid cities agreed on this decision earlier this year, but it was still a historic moment for two Summer Olympic host cities to be chosen at the same time. Bach said the votes for both cities were unanimous.

For Paris, the 2024 Olympics will mark the 100-year anniversary of the last time it hosted the Olympics in 1924. With this Olympics, it will become the second city to host three Summer Games.

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The 2028 Olympics will be the third time Los Angeles has hosted the Summer Olympics as well. It previously held them in 1932 and 1984.

The race for the 2024 Olympics started with so many cities, and it’s exciting that at the end, we learned who won the 2024 and 2028 Olympics! It will be fun to follow the cities’ progress throughout their organizing process, and I can’t wait to go to both!

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Here are their websites for more information: Paris 2024 and LA 2028

The Olympics of Dogs

It’s Friday! In honor of Friday and looking forward to the weekend, here are 4 fun facts about dogs and the Olympics.

  1. Last year, Brazil hosted its first Dog Olympics to celebrate the end of its Olympic summer, and it took place on the last day of the Paralympics. Throughout the day, dogs of all breeds, ages, and sizes competed for medals in diving, jumping, swimming, and running.

2. Before the Sochi 2014 Olympics, many people had to step in and help stray dogs living in Sochi. For example, a Russian business mogul, Oleg Deripaska, created a shelter in the hills above Sochi. To save dogs, volunteers drove a golf cart around to pick them up and take them to the shelter. People who were in Sochi for the Games, including many U.S. athletes, adopted some of the strays and brought them home. For example, Gus Kenworthy, a U.S. skier, adopted two dogs, Jake and Mishka.

People are still rescuing Sochi’s dogs. Vlada Provotorova, a Sochi resident, has been saving as many dogs off the streets as she can since 2014 and was able to set up a charity called Sochi Dogs, where you can adopt dogs from Sochi even if you live in another country! Check out the website for more information: http://www.sochidogs.org/

3. At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials (click here if you want to read an interview with one of the swimmers who competed there!), therapy dogs were allowed on deck to help swimmers stay calm before and after their races. For the meet, USA Swimming partnered with Domesti-PUPS to provide swimmers with therapy dogs. They even had credentials, so they could be on deck!

Above photos from http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more-sports/u-s-swimmers-therapy-dogs-relax-olympic-trials-article-1.2694270.

4. Before the 2016 Olympics, many dog owners dressed their dogs up to support the athletes. One Instagram, @thedogstyler, dressed dogs up as different types of athletes, and they’re so cute!

Enjoy your Friday with your furry friends!

Phelps vs. Shark

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Tonight at 8 pm EST, you can watch Michael Phelps race a Great White Shark! As a part of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, Michael Phelps flew to Cape Town, South Africa, to swim against a Great White in a 100-meter open water race. For safety reasons, he did not swim next to the shark, and there were about 15 safety divers around. Their times were compared to identify a winner.

tv_phelps1a.jpgThe special is called Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White, and although we probably can guess who will win, who knows? Great Whites normally swim 10 miles per hour but can reach up to 35 miles per hour, but Michael Phelps has won 28 Olympic medals and wore a custom monofin (a single fin flipper that looks like a shark tail) to swim faster. Additionally, it’s a lot easier to ask Michael Phelps to swim in a straight line for 100 meters than a shark! We’ll have to see!

It will be fun to watch, and Phelps said that swimming with sharks first in the Bahamas and then in Cape Town was unbelievable. He hopes that his experience and the show on Discovery tonight will educate others about sharks. He said, “Sharks aren’t out to eat us. They’re just like us, trying to survive.”

Phelps will be in another show on Shark Week called Shark School with Michael Phelps, which airs July 30 at 8 pm EST.

Olympic Comebacks

When the Olympics are over, what do Olympians do? Many of them retire, but some keep training for the next four years until the next Olympics. The really interesting and inspiring stories happen when retired athletes come back and begin training to compete at the Olympics after a long time in retirement. Here are a few of their stories.

Laura Wilkinson 

Here’s Laura’s comeback video. She competed the Sydney 2000 Olympics and won a gold medal even with a broken foot. Her medal was the first gold for an American female competing on the 10 meter platform since 1964. At the Athens 2004 Olympics, she won fifth place, and in 2005, she won gold at the World Championships. She competed at the Beijing 2008 Olympics and then retired. Now, at 39 years old, she is working to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Good luck, Laura!

Janet Evans

Janet Evans, a three-time Olympian (1988, 1992, 1996), won four gold medals and held seven world records by the time of her retirement. In 2011, she began training again to compete at the London 2012 Olympics, and at the age of 40, she competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She finished 80th out of 113 swimmers in the 400-meter freestyle and 53rd out of 65 swimmers in the 800-meter freestyle. Currently, she is the Vice Chairperson, Chair of the Bid Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, and Director of Athlete Relations at the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Committee.

Ed Moses

Ed Moses competed at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and won a gold medal in the 4 by 100-meter medley relay and a silver in the 100-meter breaststroke. Over his career, he also set two world records. He made a comeback and qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials but didn’t make it out of the first round in either of his events. Amazingly, he qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials after only 2 practices in the 4 years before.

Anthony Ervin

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Anthony Ervin, a three-time Olympian (2000, 2012, 2016), has won three gold medals and one silver over his career. He competed at the 2000 Olympics where he tied for first in the 50-meter freestyle and won silver on a relay team. He retired in 2003 and sold his gold medal on eBay for $17,000 to help the survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. In 2012, he came out of retirement and won fifth place in the 50-meter freestyle. At the Rio 2016 Olympics, he won gold in the 50 free for the second time and gold in a relay.

Dara Torres

Dara Torres is the first swimmer to compete for the U.S. at 5 Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2008). Over her career, she won 12 Olympic medals including 4 gold, 4 silver, and 4 bronze. She has won at least 1 medal at each of the Olympics she competed in. In 2000, she made a comeback and competed at the Sydney Olympics after being retired for 7 years. At those Olympics, she won more medals than any other member of Team USA even though she was the oldest member of the U.S. Olympic swim team. When she was 41, she had her second comeback at the Beijing 2008 Olympics and won 3 silver medals.

The Olympics of Blogs will keep you updated on any more comebacks that happen before the Tokyo 2020 Games!

Additional News…

Tomorrow night at 8 pm EST on ABC is the ESPYS, the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards. Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics, will be accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on behalf of his late mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started Special Olympics. Eight athletes will be on stage with him. I’m sure it will be a night to remember, and I’m really excited to watch it!

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The 2017 Special Olympics PA State Summer Games

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The Area M Swim Team!

From June 1 to June 3, I finished up my role as an Assistant Coach for Special Olympics Swimming at the Special Olympics Pennsylvania State Summer Games. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done for Special Olympics, but it was also one of the best.

Area M, the Special Olympics region in PA where I live, brought 5 coaches and 18 swimmers to the Summer Games. Some of them were athletes I’ve been coaching since January, and it was so exciting to see them compete and win! Others were athletes I just met on Thursday, but we quickly became friends.

We left early Thursday morning and took a school bus to Penn State. I sat next to an athlete who was really kind and friendly. He runs his own private eye and matchmaking business, so on the ride there, he told me all about them. We were on the same bus as the Softball team, and I found out that many of the swimmers and softball players have been coming to the Summer Games for over 20 years!

When we got to Penn State, we quickly checked into the dorms, and then it was time for the first day of competition. We were lucky to have beautiful days the entire time we were there.

That night, it was the Opening Ceremony, and one of the Area M swimmers had been selected to light the torch! That was so exciting because she was one of the athletes I’d been coaching since January. Everyone in the Area M section cheered really loudly for her as she lit the torch with some police officers, and the Games were officially open!

The next two days were filled with a lot of swimming, getting to know the athletes really well, early mornings, late nights, the Athlete Dance, SportsFest, a trip to the Creamery (for ice cream!), and then it was time for us all to go home.

I was exhausted by the end, but I would do it again. I really liked getting to know the athletes. It was the most removed I had been from the actual operations, but the closest I’d been to athletes at a State Games. I definitely made a lot of great friends, and I wish all of them luck with their Fall sports!

Here’s a video I made to sum up my experience!