Did you know that Nelson Mandela was not only a hero of democracy, but he was a champion of people with disabilities? As I began reading about Nelson Mandela following his passing, I learned that when he left his role as president of South Africa he became a spokesperson for the Special Olympics.
Why? I can only imagine that when he learned that people with disabilities were considered second class citizens deprived of an education and unjustly sent to institutions, he rallied to their cause.
In 2001 he returned to Robben Island (where he had been imprisoned) and lit the Special Olympics torch, the Flame of Hope. “Few things in life could have given me greater pleasure or brought me more honour than to be associated with the Special Olympics. I regard myself privileged to be here on this occasion,” said Nelson Mandela.
He established a goal of reaching 100,000 Special Olympic athletes from the African continent. Today there are over 175,000. He believed that, “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way little else does”.
Mr. Mandela also brought the Special Olympics Unified Sports to Africa. A component of Special Olympics, Unified Sports brings athletes together on the playing fields, with and without intellectual disabilities. Unified Sports was created and inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.
The Special Olympics are “a profound statement of inclusion – that everybody matters, everybody counts, every life has value, and every person has worth,” he said.
Be part of the vision and volunteer as a coach, official or mentor. Be a fan in the stands cheering on the athletes. Students volunteer by being a Unified Sports Partner, organizing a fundraiser and taking the pledge to end the r-word. With the numerous ways to become involved with the Special Olympics, I encourage you to see what opportunities are available in your community.