In the portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver added to the National Portrait Gallery’s collection last year, the late founder of the Special Olympics movement looks almost ethereal. Bathed in Cape Cod light, her iconic smile turned toward one of the young people pictured with her, Shriver is painted in an elegant dress and pearls, her mane of white hair perfectly in place. But her sons Timothy and Anthony also remember another side to her.
“She was a gigantic competitor, and she loved sports, and she was an incredible friend,” says Anthony, who spoke with Washingtonian.com on the anniversary of the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act this week. “She loved nothing more than her friends. She loved to get out in the field and compete with her friends.”
It’s with that competitive spirit in mind that Anthony and Timothy Shriver, and the organizations they head—Best Buddies International and Special Olympics—are teaming up for a new event in Washington on October 23: the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Challenge. Participants can sign up for a 20-mile bike ride or tandem race or a 5K run or 3K walk, among other events.
The Shrivers have signed up a roster of distinguished Washingtonians for the event. Washington Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and Ken Holden, Leonsis’s Best Buddy for the last 12 years, are co-chairing the Challenge. It’s no surprise that bike-loving DC mayor Adrian Fenty is on board. And Olympian Carl Lewis will lead the on-foot events.
The goal is partially to raise money for Best Buddies and Special Olympics, and participants have already pledged more than $810,000 so far. But Timothy Shriver says it’s also about the experience itself—to bring together Washingtonians with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those without, changing their perspectives on one another in the process.
“I see this as a civil-rights struggle,” he says. “Where the first generation achieved great success in changing the law, our struggle is to change hearts and minds. Most people grow up and they have no close relationship, no intimate friendly relationship, with a person with an intellectual disability.”
Anthony Shriver says even one-time contact can make a difference: “You raise awareness of the skills that people with special needs possess. People want to get more involved, more engaged. They want to hire someone with special needs. Children come out and they want to get a Buddy themselves. It’s a great way to drum up energy, spirit, and to develop a support base beyond just the ride themselves.”
Timothy Shriver says the time is ripe for change in Washington, a city that hasn’t always been a leader in the treatment of its intellectually and developmentally disabled citizens. As proof of changing attitudes, he points to the Archdiocese of Washington, which is working to improve and broaden special-education opportunities in Catholic schools and to reconsider pastoral approaches to people with such disabilities. Last November, for instance, St. Rose of Lima parish in Gaithersburg opened a group home for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“That needs to happen not just in one religious community,” Timothy Shriver says—and not simply in faith communities but in the area’s schools, businesses, and highest levels of government: “Why shouldn’t the mayor’s office have someone with intellectual disabilities who works there? Why shouldn’t the White House?”