“Meeting Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a life changing experience.”

Athlete leader Katie Day recalls the moment she met her role model, at the 2005 Winter World Games in Japan.

Today, we celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of the founder of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Eunice was an extraordinary woman and a pioneer in the worldwide fight for the rights and acceptance of people living with an intellectual disability.  An incredibly driven woman, fuelled by passion, she strongly believed that if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else, they could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible.  

Born one of nine siblings which included former US president John F Kennedy, Eunice also had a sister, Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability.   Growing up playing sports together and witnessing first-hand the discrimination and exclusion her sister experienced, Eunice decided to take matters into her own hands and create an organisation which put people with intellectual disabilities at the very heart. 

And the rest, as they say, is history.  What began as one woman's vision and a camp in her own backyard has evolved into Special Olympics International—a global movement that today serves almost 6 million people with intellectual disabilities in 200 countries including Great Britain.  

A message of victory “The right to play on any playing field? You have earned it.
The right to study in any school? You have earned it. The right to hold a job? You have earned it. The right to be anyone’s neighbour? You have earned it!” E.K.Shriver

One Special Olympics GB athlete who shares the same passion and embodies what this organisation is all about, is the secretary of the Special Olympics GB Athlete Leadership Team and coach, Katie Day.  Katie, from City of Birmingham, joined Special Olympics GB over 24 years ago and has since competed in six National Summer games, five National Winter games and one World Winter Games.

Swimming and skiing are her current main sports, but she has also competed in table tennis, badminton, basketball and athletics. When Katie joined at the age of 12, she felt like an outcast at school and lacked in self-belief.  However, now as an athlete and a leader, she oozes confidence and her ability to help others is inspiring. She tells us: “I always knew I had something to say and now I’m using my voice to spread inclusion.”

It is evident how proud Katie’s family are of the woman she has become as her dad tells us: “Katie is an amazing athlete, and we have shoe boxes upon shoe boxes of medals to prove it!”

In 2005 at the Winter World games in Nagano, Japan, Katie won a silver medal for Alpine Skiing and was awarded her medal by Eunice who apparently said: “It’s a bit cold isn’t it?”  Much to Katie’s amusement and delight she jumped off the podium in her ski boots.  A slippery moment indeed but one of Katie’s happiest memories and a truly unforgettable moment of meeting and shaking the hand of her role model.  

“Meeting Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a life changing experience and the proudest moment of my Special Olympics career.”  

It is clear that this experience has left a lasting impression on Katie, and it is a story she loves telling the athletes, volunteers and families she meets.

“When our hearts are touched and when they are opened, then there is a world on fire” EKS

It is also clear that Special Olympics is very important to the Day family. Her Dad, Mike, is an athletics coach and also Chair of Special Olympics City of Birmingham and her sister, Caroline is the treasurer.  Mike knew right from day one, how great Special Olympics GB was, as he explains: “When I took Katie along to her first training session, I thought I would drop her off and pick her up when the session finished. However, I enjoyed seeing what a difference it made to Katie so much, that I started volunteering.” Our athletes and volunteers are at the heart of our organisation and when asked what advice he would give to anyone thinking of volunteering he says: “Once you’re in, you’re in!  But try it out, give it a go.  For me I wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

Like many who experience the wonderful world and friendly community of Special Olympics GB, Mike’s volunteering experiences ignited his passion, and he is now responsible for many training sessions, coaching new sport skills and organising local events and competitions.

The bond between Katie and her dad is truly special and as well as coaching together, two years ago they set up a gardening business called, Katie Day’s Gardening.  

As Katie explains: “I have always loved gardening so when I became redundant from my nursery teaching job, with my dad’s help I started my own business.”  Together the green-fingered pair take on jobs of all sizes and share the responsibilities that come with being entrepreneurs.  When asked what advice she would give athletes thinking of starting their own business, Katie says: “Know what you want to specialise in and be passionate about it. Have confidence in yourself and believe that if you can dream it, you can achieve it.”

Such great advice and with a massive 94% of people living with an intellectual disability NOT in paid employment, with several of our athletes setting up businesses, it is yet another example of what our athletes are capable of.

Katie, like many of our athletes have had their lives transformed by being involved in Special Olympics GB.  Making new friends, competing in sport and learning life skills at the same time is huge for our athletes as Katie explains: “My life before Special Olympics GB was pretty boring.  It means the world to me and has transformed my life for the better.”

It is clear to see the impact that Special Olympics GB has had on Katie and her family, and it all started with Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

As we celebrate her achievements on what would have been her 100th birthday, her powerful words about our amazing athletes still resonate: “By your presence you send a message to every village, every city, every nation.  A message of hope, a message of victory. What truly counts is the courageous spirit and the generous heart.”

When asked to describe Special Olympics GB in three words, Katie said “Life changing organisation; One big happy family; and once Special Olympics is in your life, it’s in your life for good!”

No doubt, Katie has a strong future ahead of her and we are certain that she will continue to be an inspiration to her fellow athletes as she follows in the footsteps of Eunice.

Thank you for sharing your story with us Katie and we are absolutely sure, Eunice would be very proud of you.