Published : 2013-01-30 20:14
Updated : 2013-01-30 20:14
Members of U.S. President Barack Obama’s delegation to the Special Olympics World Winter Games here in PyeongChang said Wednesday they have been inspired by athletes with intellectual disabilities competing on an international stage.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack led the delegation to PyeongChang, an alpine town about 180 kilometers east of Seoul. The members served breakfast to the Special Olympics athletes Wednesday in a volunteer program called, “May I Serve You.”
Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul; Judith E. Heumann, the special advisor for international disability rights at the Department of State; and Julie Petty, a member of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, also joined the volunteering event.
Vilsack recalled the time he served as governor of Iowa between 1999 and 2007, when his lieutenant governor, Sally Pederson, had a child with autism.
“At that point, it reminded me that every one of us has potential to achieve, and that success needs to be defined based on a person’s ability and a person’s willingness to try,” Vilsack said. “These young people who are participating today are an inspiration to all of us. I think it’s unfortunate that not everybody in the country can see what we’re going to see here today with the competition. It just warms your heart.”
The Special Olympics World Winter Games opened here Tuesday, with 106 countries having sent more than 3,000 athletes and officials. It will conclude on Feb. 5.
Since the emphasis is more on participation than on competition, Special Olympics World Games don’t keep track of medal hauls by countries. The top three finishers in each event win medals, but everyone else also receives a ribbon.
Vilsack said Obama, as a “very competitive man,” would expect the American athletes here to do well, though the president also understands the event is about more than just trying to finish first.
“I think the president would be most proud of the fact that people are trying and making the effort,” Vilsack said. “This is the president that believes very strongly in inclusion.” (Yonhap News)
Heumann, a civil rights activist for people with disabilities, called the World Winter Games “a very powerful event.”
“Having been in Korea recently and spoken to people about some of the barriers that disabled people face, I believe these events are really important because they allow people to see what people are capable of doing, whether they have disabilities or not,” she said. “We can see internationally that people, through sports, are learning what all types of people are capable of doing. I hope one of the outcomes of the games here in Korea is that people will see what people are able to do and help change people’s minds.”
The Special Olympics World Games have been held every two years since 1968, and they now alternate between summer and winter events. The first winter version was held in 1977. PyeongChang is the first South Korean host of the World Winter Games.
The Special Olympics movement was founded by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a younger sister of the former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Timothy Shriver, Eunice’s son, is currently the chairman of Special Olympics International, the governing body of the Special Games. (Yonhap News)