The Special Olympics World Games kick off in Los Angeles this weekend, bringing thousands of athletes from around the world from more than 160 countries. It's been 16 years since the U.S. has had an opportunity to host the elite Special Olympics event, and more than 500,000 spectators are expected over the course of the Games.
This year's Special Olympics World Games will also include a star-studded guest list, with appearances from Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Kimmel, Avril Lavigne, First Lady Michelle Obama, and former Olympic athletes Greg Louganis and Michael Phelps, among others.
— Avril Lavigne (@AvrilLavigne) July 25, 2015
— Chris Daughtry (@CHRIS_Daughtry) July 23, 2015
The real stars, however, are the athletes themselves. Athletes with a variety of intellectual disabilities will compete in 25 different sports, including basketball, swimming, soccer, powerlifting, bocce, and more. The age range for this year's World Games is said to include the youngest athlete, a 9-year-old by the name of Hoi Kei Tang, to the oldest athlete, 71-year-old golfer named Patrick Rutherford.
Special Olympics was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver as a means of helping individuals with intellectual disabilities explore sports and athletics at a competitive level. The organization quickly grew from a national competition to an international phenomenon, and it currently boasts the inclusion of 177 countries and more than four million athletes worldwide.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver's daughter, Maria Shriver, has taken up the Special Olympics torch in her family's honor. She recently wrote an essay for Time magazine about the importance of how people talk about and view those with intellectual disabilities and the impact Special Olympics has had on that.
"...nearly half of our country's adult population still say they don't know a single person with intellectual disability, and a stunning 1 in 5 don't even know what an intellectual disability is. As the U.S. prepares to welcome 6,500 athletes and coaches from 165 countries to Los Angeles this weekend to compete in 25 sports at the Special Olympics World Games... this week, let these Special Olympics World Games serve as a catalyst for change. Gather your family and turn on ESPN, which is devoting its prime-time television space to these remarkable athletes and their stories—stories that are no less powerful and inspiring than the stories that come out of the Olympics every four years."
So if you're looking for some good competition and sportsmanship, a reason to smile, or just a warm fuzzy this week, check your local listings from July 25 to August 2 on ESPN and catch a glimpse of the athletes at the Special Olympics World Games.
For more information on the Special Olympic World Games, click here.
[Photo courtesy of Special Olympics World Games 2015 Official Facebook.]