BY ANNE MESILIO
Special Olympics came about thanks to Eunice Kennedy Shriver inviting into her backyard in Chicago in the early 1960’s those considered disabled and called mentally retarded; a marginalised section of society who suffered under the yoke of stigma, ignorance, fear and sad to say shame at having such a family member. Eunice, a member of the powerful Kenndy dynasty, had had a similar experience with her sister Rosemary so she understood the weight of public opinion against her but she had courage and conviction.
A few years after opening her back yard she recognised the potential that sports offered and in July 1968 the first International Special Olympics Games took place at Soldier Field, Chicago. What a bold step for that time, one that became a ‘giant leap’ for those eight years old and over experiencing intellectual disabilities giving them the opportunity to continue to train and compete in a variety of Olympic style sports. Year-round training was offered (by an army of volunteers) providing continued opportunities to develop physical fitness. It did not stop there, it helped the athletes demonstrate courage, know the joy of sharing, learning motor skills, form friendships at home and abroad, but above all else sharing with their families and community.
“You must look forward all the time.”
Special Olympics Gibraltar has been active and progressive since 1985. Thirty-six years wherein the character is in the heart and spirit of that Oath.
Francis Mauro has been an athlete for thirteen years. During those years he has represented Gibraltar Internationally in Athletics, Aquatics and Floor Hockey. Coach Andrew Ramage: “Perhaps the pinnacle of his achievements came in 2017 when he was selected as one of only ten athletes worldwide to participate in the Law Enforcement Torch Run and carry the Olympic Flame to the World Winter Games in Austria. A first for Gibraltar”.
In early 2020 a brand-new Special Olympics Gibraltar sports complex was opened by the Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo and one of the guests of honour was the President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, Mr David Evangelista. He oversees program operations in 58 countries in W Europe, Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations as well as a Masters in International business. He lives in Vigo, Spain with his wife and two sons.
“They should come to my world; we celebrate together in my world.”
It is fair to say he was impressed upon meeting Francis. “Francis Mauro is a living example of the strength that is needed during the toughest of times”, a quote from his tribute The World of Francis. He was referring to the invisible coronavirus which was insidiously beginning to invade our lives and become a pandemic spreading fear, confusion and a tumultuous whirlwind of upheaval as the foundations of life as we knew it were being undermined. Francis works as a messenger at the Gibraltar Health Authority and throughout this unparalleled time in our history when most of us cowered at home in lock down at our government’s instructions in order to protect our health services and save lives, Francis carried on. “You must carry on your way”, he said. “You must look forward all the time.” Francis motivated himself in this time of great fear. “Special Olympics is a different world, it gives me confidence, it makes me strong, I reach goals, isn’t that what life is all about?” Indeed!
In his piece David Evangelista draws parallels between the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and our present Pope Francis. Exalted company to be sure. “The story of St Francis and Pope Francis offer the world not only sources of great faith, but great risk. Both figures, historical and present have taken strides to challenge the status quo and in doing so elevate those most forgotten.”
The present Pope Francis in January 2021 brought out of the shadows Dr Jerome Lejeune, (1926-1994), the French geneticist who discovered the extra chromosome that causes Downs Syndrome and elevated him to ‘Venerable’ a step on the way to sainthood. David: “Francis represents hundreds of millions of individuals with intellectual and development disabilities having a disproportionately negative impact on Covid given the many underlying health issues they face”. This has not deterred Francis Mauro: “We are all the same so we must treat each other the same.” Fearlessly, he goes on: “People stare at me, they make belief that I am somehow different than they are. They should come to my world; we celebrate together in my world”.
To read The World of Francis in full visit: www.SpecialOlympicsGibraltar.org.
Here too you will find that caring people as volunteers are always needed. As we emerge from the ravages of the pandemic taking time to re assess our changed world, our changed selves, and assess our values and priorities, the World of Francis is a good place to start.
We can, all together, be brave in the attempt.