Athletes

At the heart of Eunice's relationships with the athletes is her belief that people with intellectual disabilities are no less worthy of our love, our help, our respect, and our friendship.

For Loretta Claiborne, Eunice is "the grandmother I never had."

For Renee Dease, Eunice was part-employer, part-teacher, part-cheerleader, part-social worker, and full-time-mother hen. "No matter what important issues Mrs. Shriver had going on in her life," says Renee, who has worked for almost 25 years at Special Olympics in Washington, "she always took time to sit down with me."

Eunice's daily mission is to help one more person and to give each athlete hope. Over the years her efforts have translated into millions of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

One of the negative aspects of organizations that start small and end big is that the people at the top stop connecting with those down the chain. Founders can forget the very thing, in fact, that made the organization grow. That has never happened in Special Olympics. Perhaps due to Eunice's strong relationship with her sister Rosemary, her relationships with the athletes of Special Olympics have always remained very personal.

"Why would this lady care about me?" Loretta said, referencing Eunice. "Why would this lady care at the time about a retarded person? Society didn't want us, we're supposed to be in institutions and here was this lady knocking at the door to society."

Because Eunice is constant in her relationships, the lessons she communicates never stops. "I was just talking about Mrs. Shriver the other day," Loretta said not long ago. "I was telling this other woman something she said that I will carry with me the rest of my life: 'When the sun is out, you should be out.'

"The woman said to me, 'You know, you talk about that lady, Mrs. Shriver, all the time.'

"And I said, 'you know why? Because when you feel good about someone it just brings joy to talk about them.'"

Renee is not as public a figure as Loretta. But in her own way she has accomplished almost as much. She began as a Special Olympics athlete and eventually began working in the office as a receptionist. Eunice and others guided her and she became a model employee. "I have learned bravery from Mrs. Shriver. She is a very brave and courageous person. Everything she has said to the athletes to be, she is herself."

Renee took Eunice's advice to heart and has finished high school and is now pursuing a college degree as she works in the Special Olympics Healthy Athlete Program.

"Over the years, she has done so many things for me personally, from teaching me to study English, Math and History to advising me on raising my daughter. I have learned a lot from Mrs. Shriver and she has helped me grow."

Every interaction with a Special Olympics athlete has been meaningful and she has left a lasting impression.

"She always knew my name and was interested in how I was doing," said Katie Meade, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger from Iowa.

And, lest anyone think Eunice's friendship with the athletes be born from pity or insincere, they need look no further than her own words.

"I love to have them teach me. I learn a lot of things from them. I learn persistence. I learn guts. I learn courage. I learn commitment."

"You have taught us that what matters is not power or politics, weapons or wealth. What truly counts is the courageous spirit, the generous heart