Special Olympics in Canada

In the early sixties, testing of children with an intellectual disability revealed that they were only half as fit as their non-disabled peers. It was assumed that their low level of fitness was a direct result of their disability. A Toronto researcher, Dr. Frank Hayden, questioned this assumption. Dr. Hayden conducted research, which concluded that given the opportunity, individuals with an intellectual disability could become physically fit, and acquire the physical skills necessary to participate in sport.

Inspired by his discoveries, Dr. Hayden began researching for ways to develop a national sports program for people with an intellectual disability. His work came to the attention of the Kennedy Foundation in Washington, D.C. and led to the creation of Special Olympics. The first sports competition organized under the Special Olympics banner was held at Soldier's Field in Chicago in 1968.

To ensure Canada's representation at the competition, Dr. Hayden called on the renowned broadcaster, successful businessman and humanitarian; Harry "Red" Foster. Mr. Foster accompanied a floor hockey team from Toronto to the competition in Chicago. Mr. Foster saw this as an opportunity to enhance the lives of mentally disabled Canadians, and upon returning to Canada he set about laying the foundation for the Special Olympics movement.

In 1969, the first Special Olympics event was held in Toronto. Today, over 15,600 athletes with an intellectual disability participate in Special Olympics programs across Ontario alone.


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