About Us

History of Special Olympics

Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed in justice. But, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she saw little justice in the way people with intellectual disabilities were treated. They were often ignored and neglected, yet she knew they had many talents and gifts to offer. Eunice had a sister, Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. She and Rosemary grew up playing sports together and with their family. The sisters swam, they sailed, they skiied, they played football together. But in those days, there were limited programs and options for someone like Rosemary.

Eunice began to see that sports could be a common ground to unite people from all walks of life. She also saw that many children with intellectual disabilities didn’t have a place to play. She decided to take action. Eunice held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities – and not dwell on what they could not do.

In 1968, the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago. A thousand people with intellectual disabilities from 26 U.S. states and Canada competed in track and field, swimming and floor hockey. Athletes from Iowa were a part of those first Special Olympics Games. Today, more than 5.4 million athletes from 193 countries take part in the Special Olympics.

Special Olympics in Iowa

Since 1968, Special Olympics Iowa has been a statewide movement that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports. Using sports as the catalyst, and including programming on health, leadership and education, Special Olympics is fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance. As a result, people with intellectual disabilities become accepted and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all.

For people with intellectual disabilities, the benefits of Special Olympics include:

  • Improved physical fitness and motor skills
  • Greater self-confidence
  • A more positive self-image
  • Lifelong friendships

Special Olympics athletes carry these benefits into their daily lives at home, in the classroom, on the job and in the community. For athletes, Special Olympics provides a gateway to empowerment, competence, acceptance and joy.

“My favorite part of Special Olympics is how many opportunities it has given me. I have been able to try different sports and make new friends. I get to travel to new places and tell people about all of my fun experiences. I love Special Olympics!”

–  Sherry McKee, SOIA Athlete

Be a Champion

There are many ways you can make a difference in the lives of Special Olympics Iowa athletes:

In 2022, more than 3,000 volunteers helped make 54 competitions throughout all 99 counties in Iowa possible for over 14,860 athletes and Unified partners. Make today the day you become a champion!

Our Mission

The mission of Special Olympics Iowa is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for individuals with intellectual disabilities by giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.