It’s not every day you receive an email in your inbox from the Ambassador of the United States of America, Matthew Barzun. But that’s what happened a few weeks ago, when I was invited to meet and interview some of the inspiring Team SOGB athletes.
Coca-Cola is a founding partner and global sponsor of Special Olympics, and Ambassador Matthew, as he affectionately asked to be called, had chosen to celebrate and honour the 2015 World Games at his official residence in London.
It was a star-studded affair with over a hundred anxious and excited athletes from England, Scotland and Wales in bright blue Special Olympics Great Britain kits, enjoying a range of sports and activities put on by the U.S. Embassy in its twelve-acre garden. Each athlete I spoke to came with a different story and background, but what they all seemed to have in common was an overwhelming sense of optimism and openness.
There was a mixture of returning athletes and new athletes, who, for many, it was their first time on their own and their first time travelling to America. It was humbling to see how they embraced independence, and how determined they were to take part in the games.
When the evening was drawing to a close, everyone gathered together for a team photo and to hear a short speech from Ambassador Matthew. He touched on the history of Special Olympics and explained how its founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, held the first one 53 years ago on her Maryland farm, back when it was known as Camp Shriver. The penny drops, and it makes sense why we’ve been invited to enjoy a similar experience in Ambassador Matthew’s ‘backyard’.
He followed with an anecdote from John Kennedy, Eunice’s brother, who he revealed liked to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt when he talked about competitions. “The credit belongs to the person who’s actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; and who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best and worst knows, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls that know neither victory nor defeat”.
He goes on to say how Eunice summed up the spirit of the games even better with the Special Olympics athlete’s oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”. And concludes with a shorter quote from Eunice’s son, Timothy Shriver, who he said captured the spirit of the celebration in even fewer words: “My mum was good at making important things fun”. I look around and realise he’s right.
Intellectual learning disabilities aren’t new to me, my uncle had Down’s syndrome and life wasn’t easy for him or my family. I know the challenges people affected by them face, and the difficulties there are with changing perceptions. So it makes me glad to see brands like Coca-Cola, a founding partner of the Special Olympics since 1968, are helping to improve communities by supporting organisations like these, especially when they reach up to make a positive difference.