It’s true what they say. It’s not easy being different. I know because I lived through it. Growing up partially blind and intellectually challenged, I wasn’t accepted by my peers. I was never asked to participate in anything they were doing. But then I started to run with my big brother. Slowly, I was able to find my place in the world. I truly believe that sports saved my life, and I wouldn’t be here today without it.
I am so encouraged by the work that the athletes featured in this year’s calendar are doing to bring their communities together through a variety of sports and athletic programs. Sports has always been my saving grace and a way for me to feel like I belonged, even when everyone else was telling me I didn’t. Sports can bring people together from different backgrounds and experiences and make a community whole.
I believe it’s important to inspire the kids in our communities to be better and to do more with their lives. That’s what the men and women highlighted throughout the months of this calendar are doing through their initiatives. The lessons kids learn by playing organized sports can prepare them for life. They have to learn to respect their coaches and the rules. They have to dress properly and behave. It is a place where they learn what it takes to do well, not just on a track, court or field, but also in school and life.
Sports is also a game changer when it comes to the physical health of our communities. Sports keep people active. The growing obesity epidemic in America makes it more important than ever to get African Americans on track for more healthful living. Being active can help keep our weight down. It can also keep us from doing things that may be harmful to ourselves or to one another. I’m sure these calendar honorees would agree that anything we can do to keep our kids active today is going to be the key to a better tomorrow for them and the neighborhoods we live in.
I know that sports can change people’s lives. I’m living proof of that. And the wonderful people profiled in this year’s calendar are changing lives physically, emotionally and academically, helping to create positive influences within their communities. They are providing hope for the future, and they’re accomplishing it all through the power of sports.
To learn more about Loretta Claiborne and the Special Olympics, visit lorettaclaiborne.com.
Loretta Claiborne has been a Special Olympics athlete since 1970, and continues to participate today as an athlete and as a board member of Special Olympics International. She was honored in 1996 with ESPN’s ESPY Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, and Walt Disney Productions recounted her life story in “The Loretta Claiborne Story.” Known as the “Running Lady” in her hometown of York, Pennsylvania, where she runs daily, Loretta hopes her story can change people’s minds about those with intellectual and/or physical disabilities.
Who is Loretta Claiborne? In Loretta’s words, she is “just one of God’s children who puts her pants on one leg at a time.” While known for her athletic accolades, she also is known for the inspiration she has brought to the lives of many people. She lives by the motto “God is my strength, Special Olympics is my joy.” Along with athletics, Loretta is very passionate about advocating for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Born partially blind and unable to walk until the age of 4, Loretta developed a love of sports at an early age. Since 1970, Loretta has competed in six Special Olympics World Games, winning several medals in events such as running, bowling and figure skating. She has run 26 marathons, twice finishing in the top 100 for women in the Boston Marathon. At the 1996 ESPY Awards, she was awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics International. Her story inspired Walt Disney Productions to create “The Loretta Claiborne Story” in 2000.
Now in her 60s, Loretta remains active, but has shifted more of her focus on connecting with and inspiring others. She continues to work out at the Crispus Attucks Association gym in York, Pennsylvania, while using physical exercise as a tool for motivating young people to achieve their dreams. Along with being a world-class athlete, she has become a renowned speaker, world traveler and social activist.