Special Olympics is a worldwide program providing sports training and competition for people with a mental disability.
Sport Canada recognizes the Special Olympics organization as the main provider of these services for people with mental disabilities,
although some participants may also have physical challenges.
In the early sixties, testing of children with mental
disabilities revealed that they were only half as physically fit as their non-disabled peers. It was assumed that their low
fitness levels were a direct result of their disability. A Toronto researcher, Dr. Frank Hayden, questioned this assumption.
Hayden conducted research, which concluded that given the opportunity, mentally disabled people could become physically fit,
and acquire the physical skills necessary to participate in sport.
Inspired by his discoveries, Dr. Hayden began searching
for ways to develop a national sports program for people with a mentally 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 Canada.
In 1969, the first Canadian Special Olympics event was held in Toronto. Today,
over 20,000 athletes with a mental disability participate in Special Olympics programs across the country.