Doctors who delivered Michael Cusack advised his mother not to look at him. They suggested that she send him to an institution where children with Down syndrome were cared for. His mother refused. She wanted her son to have opportunities that institutionalized children would never have.
Michael, nicknamed “Moose” because of his strength, was very athletic. When his parents saw that the Chicago Park District was starting a program for children with intellectual challenges, they enrolled him. Moose met a young college dropout, Anne Burke, who introduced him to sports. Ms. Burke had never worked with children with intellectual challenges, but she was excited to see Moose thrive.
Anne Burke, motivated by Moose’s success, saw a possibility to use sports participation for the benefit of people with intellectual disabilities. With the support of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of President Kennedy, Anne helped to organize the first Special Olympics, which took place in Chicago’s Soldier’s Field in 1968. Moose competed at that inaugural event and won a gold medal in the 25-yard freestyle swimming event at the age of 12.
The enthusiasm of Moose led the Special Olympics to open the world to thousands of persons with intellectual disabilities. Today over 5 million athletes from over 200 countries compete in the Special Olympics. Anne Burke, the young woman who was the driving force behind the Special Olympics is now the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Working with Moose opened the world to Justice Burke, who back then was a college dropout. Moose passed away this last December, leaving behind a legacy of opening possibilities by his inspiration.
Opening the world to those who have limited opportunities is one of the most noble of human endeavors. And the world is richer for the achievements of those who had previously been denied opportunities.
Unfortunately, our society often fails to celebrate the pioneers who helped open the world to those of limited opportunities. Opening the world to others can be a lonely pursuit. Champions are needed, just as Eunice Kennedy Shriver became a champion for the Special Olympics.
Just imagine what our society would be like if opening the world was seen as a vocation worthy of acclaim. Opening the world can be a singular activity as well. Just imagine how each of us could open the world to just one person. Just imagine that opportunities that still remain for opening the world. What doors might you open to the world?
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“Life is a gift and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.” – Tony Robbins (Author, coach, motivational speaker and philanthropist)
This is part of our “Just Imagine” series of occasional posts, inviting you to join us in imaging positive possibilities for a citizen-centered democracy.