I remember the days when they told my mother that I'd never be able to learn. I remember when they told me I would never be able to graduate from high school. I was partially blind and unable to walk or talk for years; I couldn’t learn as fast as the other kids. And I still remember when they told me that was I worth nothing.
But deep in my heart I knew I had things to offer. In 1970, I found out about Special Olympics and it opened doors for me. When I became an athlete, I saw that I had talents. People around me saw it too – and they began to treat me in a new and better way.
Then in 1972, I met a woman named Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She was like the grandmother I never had. I'll never forget the lessons she taught me -- that you can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it. She'd tell me: never let anybody tell you what you can't do.
She herself was an example of that because she had strength and guts. Mrs. Shriver didn’t let people tell her what to do either – and she fought for us. I believe Mrs. Shriver was chosen to have a life to serve others, even the weakest of the weak, back when no one else was helping people like me.
Mrs. Shriver believed that people with intellectual disabilities could accomplish great things. She also believed we could do things beyond sports -- like learn to be leaders and public speakers. I began to believe it too – and now I can talk and write about these things today.
Mrs. Shriver used sports as her vehicle to show the world what people with intellectual disabilities can do. Today, millions of athletes take part in Special Olympics and it’s changing their world and changing society’s attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities worldwide. And it started with one lady, Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
But none of it would be possible without Eunice Kennedy Shriver telling us to aim high and do our best. That's the only thing she ever asked us to do.