marcia-steffensI never knew Eunice Kennedy Shriver, nor did I ever meet her, as did our sports editor when she came to Notre Dame for the Special Olympics games.

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Marcia Steffens: What a woman – what an inspiration

Published 8:13am Friday, August 14, 2009

I do, though, believe Special Olympics, which she founded, has been a wonderful addition to the lives of so many people, including those of my family and friends.

Too often in this world we judge others by their mental abilities, myself included.

We look for the quick response to a question.

We lack patience for those who must rearrange their thoughts in a correct order before they can speak.

Not Eunice. She spoke for all those who hesitated.

For those who couldn’t always convey their thoughts.

As our President Barack Obama said at her passing Tuesday, “She will be remembered as the founder of the Special Olympics, as a champion for people with intellectual disabilities and as an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation – and our world – that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit.”

If you have never seen the smile on the face of someone who has been awarded a medal following a Special Olympics event you are missing something special.

My husband, like Eunice, had a sister with a disability.

Unlike many families back 40 years ago, his family didn’t hide her away.

Her presence as a full member of the family was something which brought all the siblings together like a mother lion protecting her cubs.

Later, knowing her would teach my own children to accept others who might not be as smart or coordinated or attractive.

I remember her delight at winning medals in the local Special Olympics games.

She participated in Chicago, where Eunice first started the program.

Recently I have heard how my friend’s daughter was so excited at her first participation in Special Olympics near Indianapolis, Ind.

Whether they run or jump, they are experiencing the feeling you get when you are being challenged and then you succeed.

It is well known some competitors in Special Olympics would rather see their friends cross the finish line with them, instead of behind them.

The spirit is one of brotherhood. It is one of joy.

Vice President Joe Biden also issued a statement on Shriver’s death.

He commented on her spirit.

“Eunice was one of those rare individuals whose energy and spirit were contagious.
“She inspired everyone around her to be better, to see beyond themselves, and to experience joy in life through service,” Biden said.

She was one person. True, she had the Kennedy name behind her and money to open a summer camp in her own backyard.

But the point is she did it.

She could have been eating bon bons and relaxing by a pool.

One person, who gave so much joy to so many others.

Her passing won’t be splashed across every network and still talked about for weeks, like Michael Jackson. Yet, her influence was as far reaching as his, around every nation.

In 1968, the first Special Olympics World Summer Games began in Chicago, and the movement was born.

Today, Special Olympics serves more than 3 million athletes with intellectual disabilities throughout the world.

Some would talk poorly about any of the Kennedy clan and yet, this family knew how to instill a sense of duty to the children on serving others, whether in the military or in government.

Her husband was first director of the Peace Corps. What gifts they both gave their fellowman. She was an inspiration to the world and to my family and for that I thank her.

Marcia Steffens, managing editor of the Cassopolis Vigilant and Edwardsburg Argus, can be reached at marcia.steffens@leaderpub.com.

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