CHICAGO (CBS) — The flame is lit and the Special Olympics is underway back where it started 50 years ago at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Since the Special Olympics began in 1968, the games are much bigger.
As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports attitudes toward those with intellectually disabilities are dramatically different.
Fifty years ago, the first Special Olympics made one young Olympian very happy.
“He didn’t even know if the medal said first place, third place,” said Mark Stapleton. “He came home and he showed it. He was proud to be there.”
Stapleton said that joyous moment was not predicted by doctors when his brother Kevin was born nine years earlier.
“When he was first born that the doctors pretty much said ‘put him away, forget you had him and move on with your life,'” said Stapleton.
Advice ignored by Kevin’s parents.
He had a loving family. But attitudes society wide toward those with intellectual disabilities were much different when Kevin was young.
The stares, unkind remarks, the assumption about their potential.
“They weren’t a part of the community back then like they are today. Today’s world, you go to Jewel, you see them checking out groceries and back when I was young that just wasn’t the case,” said Stapleton.
Michael Meenan is with Special Olympics International.
“We have more inclusive schools, we have unified schools, a program Special Olympics supports,” said Meenan. “We have greater health programming for athletes throughout the world. It’s a better world.”
Today, Kevin Stapleton is 59-years-old. These athletes are following his footsteps. Inside the stadium and in life.
“I think they look at them as a contributor to society,” said Stapleton. “When they can be active in society, they’re very happy.”
Mark Stapleton said when he was at Peoples Gas, Special Olympics visited the company seeking support. As part of their presentation they showed a photo of his brother Kevin at the first Special Olympics.
For Mark, it was a delightful surprise.