BY: HANNAH BOUDREAU
On July 20, 1968 Eunice Kennedy Shriver stood in front of 1,500 Special Olympics Athletes at the first ever International Special Olympics Summer Games. Her advice to the athletes was simple: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Nearly 49 years later and Shriver’s words are still motivating and empowering Special Olympics athletes each and every day. In fact, her words were the driving force behind a new event hosted by Special Olympics Maryland: the Brave in the Attempt Talks.
The Brave in the Attempt Talks, hosted at University Village at Towson University on Wednesday, June 7th, was one of the most moving events I have ever attended and was certainly a one-of-a-kind experience. Fifteen individuals participated by speaking and sharing a story to 170 audience members; each story was unique but also similar in the sense that they all centered around one driving force: bravery.
Speakers covered different topics from volunteering and participating in sports to family struggles and
even abuse. The keynote speaker, Ken Capone, started the evening off on a strong note. Capone is a recognized leader in Maryland’s self-advocacy movement and is on the United States President’s Committee for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities. In order to speak, Capone uses an assistive technology device controlled by his head. His keynote speech summarized his brave pursuit in becoming a homeowner.
“We can be employed. We can have relationships and families. We can own a house. We can function in the community,” Capone said.
Adam Hays, a Special Olympics Maryland athlete and part-time employee, was the master of ceremonies for the evening. Although he spent the night introducing and applauding the individuals speaking, he himself has been brave in the attempt by overcoming hydrocephalus, a condition causing fluid build up in his skull. Hays has undergone 34 brain surgeries in 32 years.
“It was really cool getting to be involved in the Brave in the Attempt talks because I got see a lot of my friends, fellow athletes, and those outside of Special Olympics get to share their stories [and] tell the community about their life and how they were brave as they become who they are today,” Hays said.
Often times, the stories of those with intellectual disabilities are lost or go untold. The Brave in the Attempt talks directly combat this issue by providing a safe and welcoming platform for those with intellectual disabilities to have their voices heard.
“[The talks] show the community that people with intellectual disabilities want to be included in society [and also allows them to] show their strengths and that even in their hard times, they face the same challenges that people without intellectual disabilities face,” Hays explains.
Individuals wrote speeches about different events in their life that required them to be brave. Annu Singleton spoke about missing a father figure in his life. Anna Burkett told everyone the horrors of living in Rosewood, an institution that she played a huge role in shutting down. Maggie Piet recalled the challenges of overcoming a life-altering car accident. Every individual had a different story, but every individual was brave in his or her attempts to make it through.
Susie Diffenderffer, a native of Towson and a Special Olympics swimmer, spoke about her experience in becoming a lifeguard- a daunting task regardless of intellectual ability. “Be brave when attempting difficult things. Believe in yourself. You can do it,” Susie encouraged audience members.
After her speech, Susie was pleased with the experience of speaking on stage. “I felt empowered!” she said. “I think it’s important because [people in the community] should know how much effort and dedication you need in order to compete.”
The speeches were not empowering for just the athletes- many audience and family members were touched as well. Kitty Hunsinger, whose son Justin spoke about overcoming a doctor’s diagnosis of “never being able to ride a bike” (he now competes in basketball, softball, golf, and soccer), said she loved the event. “I think it’s really beneficial for the community to see this kind of strength in people with disabilities who don’t usually get a voice in the community.”
Anyone in the crowd Thursday evening would certainly agree that the event was very moving. It is definitely something that is (and will continue to be) very influential in hearing the voices of those with intellectual disabilities.
“I feel like it was influential because it was the first, as far as I know, talk of its kind for people with intellectual disabilities and it’s just a way of telling others our stories. And that’s what we want. We want others to listen to what people with intellectual disabilities have to say, and this was an amazing platform that I know others with and without intellectual disabilities would love to hear and be inspired from,” said Adam Hays.
The Brave in the Attempt Talks will become an annual event, and until next year’s talks, Special Olympics athletes (and others with intellectual disabilities) will do what they do best: continue to be brave in any and every attempt they face.
This article was written by Lianna Purcell