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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Laura Wilkinson, #DreamChaser

As a follow up from my last post about Olympic comebacks, I was able to interview Laura Wilkinson for my blog! It was really amazing to talk to her, and she was so nice. I hope that she makes it to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and the Olympics of Blogs can follow her along the way!

If you’re a fan of Laura’s after reading this interview, you can book Laura to speak at your events! She loves speaking and motivating people by sharing her journey. Click here for more information.

To catch you up if you didn’t read my last post, here’s her comeback video:

The Olympics of Blogs: How do you feel about returning to diving?

Laura Wilkinson: Well, it’s fun. It’s fresh and new again, but there’s some wisdom and experience there. You know, it’s kind of a neat mix.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is it different now then when you competed in the past? Does it feel different?

Laura Wilkinson: I’m still kind of just getting started again. I haven’t been to many meets or been in that environment that much. It’s mainly just been training and getting my dives up again. So, there’s a lot of similarities, but it’s a different environment than I grew up training in and you know, it’s not the same pool. It’s a different situation, so there’s differences there. I don’t really know as far as the competing goes. I just haven’t done it enough yet.

The Olympics of Blogs: That makes sense. When’s your first big meet?

Laura Wilkinson: We have Nationals in August.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you feel ready?

Laura Wilkinson: Yes and no. I’m ready to mix it up with people. You know, we just went to our Zone meet in Moultrie [Georgia] this last weekend, and there were only 3 people, and 5 were going to qualify. There was no pressure. There was no meet atmosphere. It was kind of like, “oh well, we’re all going [to qualify].” So, I’m ready to get in that environment where you know, you’re nervous, there’s pressure, it matters. I’m excited to step back into that.

The Olympics of Blogs: Going back to when you competed at the Sydney Olympics, how
did it feel to stand on the platform before you dove? Were you focusing on the crowd or Laura_1-1just on the dive?

Laura Wilkinson: Somebody gave me really good advice before I went to the Olympics. It was a Canadian Olympian, and she had competed in her home country at the Montreal Olympics. She told me, “You know, when you get to the Olympics, enjoy the atmosphere. Enjoy the Olympic experience, but when you go to dive and it’s your time to compete, let all that go. In reality, it’s just another diving meet against people you’ve competed against before doing dives that you’ve done a hundred times. There’s nothing new there. All the new stuff is just the extra. It’s the people watching, it’s the tv, it’s the camera, it’s all just fluff. But in reality, it’s still just another meet.” I think knowing that really helped keep me grounded. I did, I soaked up the Olympics. I loved the Opening Ceremonies. I loved everything Olympics. But when it was my time to dive, I was able to just get into the meet.

The Olympics of Blogs: Did you get to walk in the Opening Ceremonies?

Laura Wilkinson: I did. I did at all three of my Olympics I got to. It was really cool.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did you compete at the Sydney Olympics with a broken foot? Just thinking about that makes me cringe.

Laura Wilkinson: Well, I had a stress fracture in my left foot, and then I completely broke three bones in my right foot, the three middle metatarsals. And, the way it broke, part of one of the bones slid underneath my foot, and it calcified to the two bones next to it, what they call a bone bridge. So, without doing surgery to rebreak it back together and fix it, we casted it the way it was to give me the best shot at trying to go to the Olympics. So, it was like walking on a sharp rock. It was really painful. I had to walk in a shoe, like a tennis shoe at all times. I even had to wear a shoe up to the 10-meter then throw it down. So, there was a lot of pain there, especially on certain dives where you put all the weight on the ball of your foot. You know that’s right where it’s broken, and then there was fear of hitting it again. So, it was a lot. It was a lot of pain, [and] it was a lot of mental stress you know. But I think it actually became a blessing because it helped me focus on the things I needed to focus on.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did it feel when you won gold?

920x920Laura Wilkinson: I didn’t really know. I knew I was doing well. I didn’t know that I was in the lead going into the last couple dives. I just knew I was kind of in the hunt, and I had made up some ground. So after I had done my last dive and there were 4 more people to still go and I couldn’t see the scoreboard, I just kept looking at my coach because he could see the scoreboard. After each person went, he’d turn around and he’d do the thing, kind of throw his arms up and go “yeah!” And finally, after the last girl went, he came running over and picked me up, and I was like “oh, we must have medaled.” But I had no idea we won until he just kept turning me around and saying, “We did it. We did it.” And it just kind of dawned on me at that point. Like oh my goodness, we won. So, it was a really neat moment that he got to tell me. I had no idea, so it was really cool.

The Olympics of Blogs: How does it feel to be the last female American diver to medal on the 10-meter platform? Do you think you could repeat winning gold in Tokyo?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s really neat. I seem to get mentioned a lot for that, but you know, at the same time, I want the U.S. to do well. It’s hard to watch some of our people come close and just not quite get there. It’s both. It’s exciting to leave that legacy, but then at the same time, I want people to follow in my footsteps. I want our country to step up and fill that void. And yeah, I don’t know. I’m kind of just focused on where I am right now. Like I do have those bigger goals, but right now, I’m just focusing on where I’m at and getting to that next step.

The Olympics of Blogs: I understand that. Do you have any advice for divers who are just starting their careers?

Laura Wilkinson: To not give up because it’s so easy to get frustrated. Diving can be a very frustrating sport. It’s a lot like golf. You do this half a second movement, and then you get frustrated, and you have all this time to wait. Then you have to try it again. It can be really aggravating. I think just stick with it and just keep going and not give up when it gets frustrating because that’s oftentimes when you’re close to figuring it out. Just keep going.

The Olympics of Blogs: That’s good advice. I remember that when I was diving, it could be so frustrating!

Laura Wilkinson: Yeah, it is. It drives you crazy. That’s why my coach is bald.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is it hard to train while having a family? Is it a lot harder with children?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s just a different dynamic. You know, I’m not doing the same kind of schedule I did before. I’m not doing 8 hours a day right now. It’s usually about half that, and once I come home, I’m Mom the rest of the time. But it is just different. It’s been a change for them with me being out of the house more this year, and one of my daughters has struggled with that a little bit. I mean, it’s like Mom going back to work. It’s just a different dynamic, so we’re all kind of adjusting to it. The really cool part is when my kids send me good luck notes. They tell me they want me to win because they want confetti to fall from the sky, you know. I came home and said I got second in the Zone meet, and my daughter said, “If you got second, then nobody must have been first.” It’s cool to watch them try to understand this and get all excited for me. It’s pretty cool to watch. And one time, my husband was filming, and I heard my son say, “That’s my Mommy!” It’s kind of cool when they’re proud of you, and it’s definitely a different dynamic, but it’s awesome.

The Olympics of Blogs: It sounds awesome! Do you think any of your kids will start diving?

Laura Wilkinson: I don’t know. One of them says she wants to, but she also told me after the Olympics last year that’s she’s going to go to the Olympics in diving, gymnastics, track, the pole vault, and something else. She had like 5 or 6 different events she was going to do at the Olympics. They’re still young. We’ll see what they choose to do.

The Olympics of Blogs: Thank you so much! I hope to see you compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics! Good luck!

Laura Wilkinson: Thanks!

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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!

Two Years on the Blog Today!

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Happy second birthday to my blog!

When I started this blog, I was so nervous to have people read my writing that I almost didn’t do it. Even though I still get nervous about it sometimes, I’m glad I started it and created an opportunity for myself to learn more about blogging, writing, and the Olympic Movement. I hope that reading this blog for the past two years has been fun, informative, and inspiring, and I hope you enjoyed it!

Here’s to many more years for the Olympics of Blogs!

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A Look Ahead to the Special Olympics PA Summer Games

It’s amazing to believe that it’s already been a year since I interned at the Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games! Here’s my blog post about it to get you in the Summer Games mood! https://theolympicsofblogs.com/2016/06/27/special-olympics-southern-californias-summer-games/

I leave today for the Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Summer Games! This is my first time going to a State Games as an Assistant Coach, and I’m excited. I’ll be helping coach swimming with many of the same athletes I’ve been coaching since January. I can’t wait to see how well they do!

The competition starts today and goes until Saturday, June 3. Over 2,000 athletes from across Pennsylvania are coming to Penn State to compete in Aquatics, Athletics (Track and Field), Basketball, Bowling, Equestrian (Horseback Riding), Golf, Gymnastics, Softball, and Tennis.

Check back here after this weekend to see how it goes!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States, and whether you’re an athlete, a non-athlete, or a fur baby, it’s important to thank your mom today for everything she’s done for you.

Proctor & Gamble (P&G) always have amazing commercials thanking the moms of the Olympics, Paralympics, and Special Olympics. At the end of each commercial, it even declares itself to be the proud sponsor of Moms (in addition to being a sponsor of the Olympics, Paralympics, and Special Olympics). Here are three commercials that I love.

Thank you to the all of the moms out there! ❤ Happy Mother’s Day!

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Happy Mother’s Day to my mom too! Love you, Mom!