Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Traveler's Special Tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver

A very nice lady died yesterday. Wealthy, and some would say aristocratic, Eunice Kennedy Shriver will long be remembered as the sister of a slain president, but I'll always remember her as the nice lady at the Special Olympics who was wearing ballerina-style bedroom slippers because she'd been on her feet all day.

It was in July 1983 when I first volunteered to be a "hugger" at the International Special Olympics Summer Games being held at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Every athlete in Special Olympics earned a medal for their effort, and for some, their efforts were heroic. In addition to the medal, each competitor was greeted with a hug at the end of their competition. That was my task as a hugger—to be there to offer a hug and a few words of encouragement whether they'd come in first or last. They all hugged back and some cried with pride. As volunteers, we shed a few tears as well. We also literally jumped for joy with the special athletes because they were so full of emotion. There are no losers in Special Olympics

As you can imagine, it was quite hot in Louisiana that summer. A tented area with water was provided for volunteers to rest between events and it was there that the distinguished lady in the slippers was making sure we were comfortable in the extreme heat. As she drew closer, I realized it was Mrs. Shriver herself. When she reached me, I extended my hand to shake hers. Instead, she hugged me. I'll never forget that hug. I was so in awe of what she had accomplished by founding the Special Olympics, yet she thanked me for being there.

Not only was she a nice lady with a great deal of empathy and a determination to make disabled children's' lives richer, Mrs. Shriver has been credited with being a driving force behind the Americans With Disabilities Act. Her efforts greatly expanded the rights of the disabled to fully participate in what most of us take for granted. Every traveler with a disability benefits from Mrs. Shriver's determination and dedication to making the world around them as accessible as possible.

We humbly extend our condolences to the Shriver family.

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