The seeds of the Special Olympics movement were planted in Frank Hayden at The University of Western Ontario.
Hayden spoke to graduates from the faculties of Health Sciences, the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Thursday, Oct. 27 morning session of The University of Western Ontario’s 298th Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws upon Hayden in recognition of his contributions as a researcher, visionary, impact player and being an inspirational advocate for the intellectually challenged.
“I am here today, really, because I had one hell of an idea one day,” Hayden says modestly. “Those moments will come for you too. They won’t occur every day, and they won’t occur in a vacuum; but you are all capable of new thinking, new ideas, new ways of looking at life and improving it.
“The crucial thing is when the moment arrives, don’t miss it.”
A graduate of Western, Hayden made one of his most significant contributions while a faculty member in the then-called School of Physical and Health Education (now School of Kinesiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences).
While many assumed the low fitness levels of children with mental disabilities was attributed to their disabilities, Hayden’s research demonstrated this was merely a result of a sedentary lifestyle. In other words, their mental disabilities resulted in their exclusion from physical activity and sports readily available to other children.
Hayden achieved his goal of developing a national sports program for the intellectually challenged when his work was brought to the attention of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Kennedy Foundation in Washington, D.C. This partnership led to the creation of the Special Olympics and its first competition was held in Chicago in 1968.
Today, the Special Olympics movement has 3.5 million registered athletes and over one million volunteers in more than 200 countries.
Hayden encouraged graduates to be determined in their goals.
“When your time arrives and you get your idea, be determined. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done,” he says. “You listen and you keep an open mind, but don’t be deterred. Go with it.”
Hayden is a professor emeritus at McMaster University and has held academic appointments at Western and the University of Toronto. In December 1994, Maclean’s magazine named Hayden to its Honour Role of 12 Outstanding Canadians. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Royal Bank Award and a member of the Order of Canada.
In his citation, School of Kinesiology professor Darwin Semotiuk says it is fitting to honour Hayden on the heels of Western hosting the 2010 Special Olympics Canada National Summer Games in July 2010.
“In his very own special, quiet and unassuming way, Frank Hayden has been and continues to be a highly respected teacher, researcher and leader among his peers,” says Semotiuk.
The oath recited by athletes at the beginning of all Special Olympics competitions, says Semotiuk, contains a lesson for everyone:
“Let me win; but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Also during the ceremony, the status of professor emeritus was conferred upon Jacob Van Dyk (Medical Biophysics).
Click here to watch the live broadcast of Western’s convocation ceremonies Oct. 27-28.