Special Olympics celebrates 50 years at Champions for 50 Celebration
Friends and supporters of Special Olympics gathered at the JFK Library on Thursday September 27 for the Special Olympics Champions for 50 Celebration, hosted by Special Olympics Massachusetts. The celebration recognized the achievement of the past 50 years of Special Olympics, and also the Partners for 50, corporate sponsors who are committed to supporting the movement into the future. Dozens of Special Olympics athletes, some of whom have been participating for nearly all 50 years, were a main part of the evening.
Following a VIP and welcome reception, the night’s program began with an introduction from Special Olympics Massachusetts President and CEO Mary Beth McMahon, followed by the song “What a Wonderful World” sung by Dr. Ronan Tynan. Special Olympics Massachusetts athletes Melissa Reilly and Tyler Lagasse shared their experiences with Special Olympics, and how those experiences have shaped their personal and professional lives. Melissa talked about her job at the state house where she is an aide to State Senator Jamie Eldridge. She credits Special Olympics for giving her the confidence to be a public speaker and the working professional she is today. Melissa is a global ambassador for the movement, on the Special Olympics Massachusetts board of directors, and in the Special Olympics Massachusetts hall of fame. Tyler, an elite level Special Olympics golfer, spoke of his childhood and growing up with autism, and knowing he was different. He learned to embrace his differences and find his passion of golf through Special Olympics. Special Olympics gave him the confidence to speak publicly at the Special Olympics 40th anniversary celebration in 2008 where he showed everyone, including his family, what he is capable of. Tyler referenced the words “Never” “Possibly” and “Definitely” as he explained the things people said he would never do, like graduate high school, write a book, or attend college, all of which he has done.
Jim Brett, of the Governor’s Commission on Intellectual Disability, awarded Governor Charlie Baker the John “Jack” Brett Champion award for his dedication to improving the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities in the state of Massachusetts. Throughout his career in public service, Governor Baker has supported our athletes through his influence, advocacy and legislation.
The keynote speaker of the evening was Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International and son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded Special Olympics in 1968. He talked about all of the things we learn from people with intellectual disabilities and that going forward Special Olympics should be thought of not as a movement for people with intellectual disabilities, but a movement by people with intellectual disabilities. He spoke of how his aunt Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability, was the catalyst for the entire Special Olympics movement, and everyone was able to learn something from her, including his uncle, President John F. Kennedy.
To honor the 50th anniversary, Special Olympics Massachusetts Champions for 50 highlights unique partnerships between athletes and leading organizations in the community. Each Champion for 50 sponsor is paired with an athlete and will continue to work with that athlete to provide more inclusive opportunities in the state of Massachusetts. We celebrate the work already done by these incredible partners and look forward to working together to find new ways to deepen the impact of the Special Olympics Movement. Among the Champions for 50 are Boston’s foremost sports organizations, the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins Foundation, the Patriots Foundation, the New England Revolution and the Boston Celtics. Other corporate partners include John Hancock, Appleton Partners, Arbella Insurance Foundation, OUTFRONT Media, Bank of America, RSM, and The Peter & Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation.