Prior to Special Olympics’ first International Games, founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver uttered 15 words during the Opening Ceremony at Chicago’s Soldier Field that would go on to take new meaning for countless Special Olympics athletes over the next 50-plus years.
Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.
The words came to Shriver the morning of July 20, 1968, putting focus on the importance of the effort that has led to personal-best achievements of varying degrees, and thus the athlete oath was born. Now, athletes are chosen to recite the oath prior to each Special Olympics competition throughout the world. The cadence of the oath is broken up into three parts, with the crowd of athletes repeating the chosen athlete.
It’s become as synonymous to the start of the Games as the Flame of Hope cauldron lighting tradition.
“It makes me feel good,” said Maria Sandoval, a Santa Maria tennis player and swimmer who had the honor prior to the North Divisional Fall Games on Oct. 26.
A week earlier, at the Central Division Fall Games at South Gate Park, it was South Bay volleyball player Jason Dougall who took the microphone. For him, it’s about the “motivation” he feels as the rest of his peers recite along.
“It makes you want to do everything harder, play harder,” said Jason, who also does track and field in the spring season. “They just supported me.”
In the crowd, that day was Jason’s mother, Alice. As he went through each word, she began to reminisce and think about how far Jason has come thanks to Special Olympics.
“Just hearing him gave me so much. It was a big thing for me,” Alice said.
Athletes, who have learned to put the process and the thrill of competition above the results, have found something worth celebrating—whether it be a gold medal finish, the mere completion of a race or a particular aspect of a sport. Those moments cannot happen without the attempt and courage to perform in front of crowds ready to give them their full support. The oath symbolizes the spirit of competition that the athletes strive to exemplify.
Win or lose, Central Riverside basketball and softball player Deandre Patton said, the athlete oath has taught him there is always something to take away from each experience.
“It means even if you lose the game, you always keep your head up and still be positive,” he said. “You can always win the next game. But if it doesn’t happen, just be out there and have fun with it.”