National Portrait Gallery painting of Mrs. Shriver, the first ever commissioned by the Gallery not of a President or First Lady. Loretta stands to her right.

Celebrating Her Courage, A Gift That Changed The World

“Courage is not about one player’s single accomplishment on any given day — it is about the dedication, commitment and triumph of a lifetime.”

Loretta receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 1996.

These are the words that Denzel Washington used in 1996 to describe the contribution of Arthur Ashe, and by extension, me, as I stood on the stage of the ESPYS and he honored me with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Today, this award means so much more than that designation. It encapsulates the lively nature of Jimmy V, the bravery of Pat Tillman, the tenacity of Muhammad Ali, the heroism of Zaevion Dobson, and the contributions of so many others.

In a few weeks, my good friend, role model, and mentor, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, will be posthumously honored with this award. In my opinion however, Mrs. Shriver has already won this award, because without her, I never would have received mine.

Before I came to Special Olympics and met Mrs. Shriver, I had a hard time understanding my place in the world. It seemed like there were so many obstacles on the road to success and I was the only one having trouble with them. She taught me that I had rights, that I could overcome, and that I had the power to be whoever I wanted to become. Today, I have finished in the Top 100 Women in the Boston Marathon twice, sit on the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, and am even a black belt in karate.

She inspired me to accomplish.

Loretta graduates as Mrs. Shriver cheers her on.

But I am not alone. My story is the same as millions of athletes all over the world, and it is this way because this is who she was. When society told us no, she opened her doors. She saw potential in differences and instead of ignoring us, she embraced us — Changing the world in the process.

Her courage shines through every time a person with an intellectual disability is included, whether in schools, on fields, in the workplace, or in government, and in thinking about what this award stands for, I think of what her brother, President John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

On July 12th, when Mrs. Shriver receives this award, we will express our gratitude to Mrs. Shriver by recommitting ourselves to her legacy and choosing to include.

Be sure to tune-in to the ESPYS on July 12th at 8 pm ET on ABC Television Network as Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver accepts the award during a special presentation!