There is a very large hole in the world today. It is the size of one person, but it will take an awful lot of people to fill it back up again. The space that Eunice Kennedy Shriver filled in the world was just a lot bigger than most people. Her heart alone seemed to be limitless. There was always room there for one more of us.
You see, I am a man with Down Syndrome and my life is worth living because Mrs. Shriver lived hers the way she did. Forty-one years ago Mrs. Shriver started asking “why not” about the lives of people like me, and nothing has been the same since. Special Olympics, which began as an outing for a few individuals in the Shrivers’ backyard, now has participants all over the world. Because of Mrs. Shriver, people like me have a place to compete, a place to be brave, a place to win with joy, and a place to lose with grace.
But the miracle that Mrs. Shriver has made is not really what happens on the field of play, but rather what has happened in the hearts and minds of the millions of people who have coached, volunteered, and cheered at our games. Because so many people have come in close contact with us through participation in Special Olympics, we are no longer automatically excluded from society.
None of us need fear the welcome that Mrs. Shriver will receive as her spirit moves on. There are tens of thousands of special angels who have gone before her who are just waiting for the chance to cheer for her at the end of her race as she has cheered so many of ours. For us left behind, there are no words to say “Thank you” enough, so on behalf of all of us athletes, I would just like to repeat what we told her a year ago at one of those special gatherings in the Shrivers’ backyard, “Rock on, Mrs. Shriver, rock on.” I can still see her smile and hear her laugh.
Thanks, Mrs. Shriver, you took the one lifetime you were given and gave meaning to millions of lives. If there is an awards ceremony for life, you win the gold medal.
To learn more about the life and legacy of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, please visit the newly launched tribute Web site www.eunicekennedyshriver.org.