When the Special Olympics opened in Los Angeles last July, First Lady Michelle Obama was there to officially open them, before 60,000 people at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and in front of a global television audience
During the 9 day competition in 25 events 6,500 athletes from across the planet participated.
How did the Special Olympics become so popular?
Marty Sheets played an important role and we are proud to share his story:
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Marty (1953 – 2015) was born with Down syndrome, and his parents were told that with his supposed lack of intelligence he should be institutionalized.
His parents didn't listen.
When Marty was 4 years old, a doctor told them he would never learn to tie his shoes. He learned to tie his shoes later that day.
So as not to limit his potential Marty's parents enrolled him in public schools, where he thrived.
But Marty's big breakthrough came in 1968:
That year, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, started the Special Olympics for those athletes who were intellectually challenged.
Marty trained hard for that first Special Olympics, but became severely ill and could not compete.
However, he did attend the closing banquet, where Eunice Shriver presented him with a gold medal “for your guts and for your effort.”
It would be the last gift of a Special Olympics gold medal Marty would receive.
As a multi-sport athlete, in local, state, national and international competitions, competing at 110 pounds,* he won more than 250 gold medals, competing until his retirement in 2010.
Because of his warm personality as well as his athletic ability, Marty was chosen to serve as a Special Olympics ambassador.
Representing the Special Olympics, Marty sat with President and Mrs. Clinton and mingled with many top sports figures including Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Pele.
He also played golf with Gary Player and skied with Billy Kidd.
Aside from his athletic career, for nearly 40 years, Marty was a stock clerk at a North Carolina Macy's store, earning a paycheck and making friends among employees and customers.
Marty is an excellent example of what the human spirit can achieve despite the limitations each of us have, and in his case, that spirit found its way to victory in many forms.