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In 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver began a summer day camp at her home in Maryland for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.  This camp was designed to allow these special individuals a chance to explore their capabilities in a variety of sports and physical activities. The idea quickly took off, and in 1968 the first International Special Olympics took place at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL, with 1,000 athletes from the US and Canada competing in Track & Field and Swimming.

In 1975, the hard work and good will of Shriver’s efforts reached Arizona.  The first Special Olympics Arizona competition consisted of a one-day Track & Field event with 100 athletes and 20 volunteers.  Today, Special Olympics Arizona offers 20 sports, four statewide competitions, three regional competitions, and over 300 area competitions for 25,000+ athletes and over 23,000+ active volunteers annually. SOAZ also provides free health screenings, health education, music and art activities, leadership opportunities & advocacy programs. SOAZ’s vision for social change starts with youth leadership & inclusive programs which will increase access to new initiatives & programs, build new audiences, and showcase the talents of the SOAZ athletes & Unified partners statewide. We work so that we may realize founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision:  to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities everywhere, and, in turn, transform the lives of everyone they touch – building a better, more accepting world for all of us.


For people with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics is often the only place where they have an opportunity to participate in their communities and develop belief in themselves. For athletes, Special Olympics sports provide a gateway to empowerment, competence, acceptance and joy.  The lessons learned in Special Olympics also impact their life skills. Sports training enhances focus and gives participants a structure for learning important lessons about perseverance, endurance and setting goals. Many people are surprised to know, more than half of adult Special Olympics athletes in the United States are employed, versus 10 percent of intellectually disabled persons who do not participate in Special Olympics.


The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.


Special Olympics Arizona’s (SOAZ) goal is to empower the over 180,000 Arizonans with intellectual disabilities to be healthy, productive, and respected members of society through SOAZ’s year-round sports training, competitions and support programs. 


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