Western’s Special Olympics legacy grows

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Western University is ‘carrying the torch’ that Special Olympics pioneer Frank Hayden lit so many years ago as it celebrates a $1.5-million donation for research into how sports benefits people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The gift is a one-time legacy project to celebrate Special Olympics’ 50thAnniversary and is a collaboration by the Special Olympics Canada Foundation, Special Olympics Canada, its Provincial/Territorial Chapters and several affiliated organizations and champions.

It establishes the Dr. Frank J. Hayden Chair in Sport and Social Impact in Western’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

The $1.5 million investment, along with matching funds from Western, creates a $3-million endowed chair, named in honour of the Western alumnus who holds two degrees from the university – BA’55, LLD’11.

Hayden dedicated his academic career to researching the effect of sports and physical activity on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and conceived the idea of Special Olympics while working at Western.

The newly endowed chair position is a celebration not only of Hayden’s contribution, but also of “the power of an idea” that started at Western and has grown into an international movement in sport, said Western President Amit Chakma.

The best things for people with intellectual disabilities haven’t even been dreamed of yet.” Special Olympics pioneer Frank Hayden.

Hayden’s research reached the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, whose mandate was to support people with intellectual disabilities.

Recruited by the Foundation, Hayden designed and directed the first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, attracting 1,000 athletes from the United States and Canada. He has continued to work with the Special Olympics movement throughout its 50-year history and has played a pivotal role in its global growth.

Hayden was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

At the event announcement Monday, Hayden noted he had originally come to Western to study because the university saw the value of sport. This is still the case and the reason the university is a fitting place for the chair position, he noted. With the Special Olympics reaching roughly 20-30 per cent of the population it aims to serve, there is much more to be done, Hayden added.

The Hayden Chair will advance the work of Western’s Sport and Social Impact Research Group – an integrated team involving scholars, graduate students, and partner organizations – to focus on the social impact of sport and physical activity on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, with an emphasis on social inclusion, health equity, and mobility.

The Chair will also work with Special Olympics Canada to create and contribute to a knowledge hub that helps transfer research knowledge to Special Olympics communities, athletes, families and supporters.

Olympic swimmer Mark Tewksbury, board chair and president of Special Olympics Canada, lauded Hayden, who returned to Western for the gift announcement, which took place only steps away from where Hayden’s office had been.

“From his strong belief that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities could participate in, and benefit from sport, Dr. Hayden spearheaded a movement that truly changes peoples’ lives,” Tewksbury said.

“Over 50 years ago, it was kind of a radical idea that kids with Down Syndrome or intellectual disability could participate in sport, but with the vision and research  of Dr. Frank Hayden, today there’s over five million athletes in Special Olympics programs around the world, in 172 countries.”

The Chair will be housed in Western’s Kinesiology department, in the Faculty of Health Sciences, the home of the International Centre for Olympic Studies.

“We are honoured to be partnering with Special Olympics across Canada and affiliated organizations and champions,” said Faculty of Health Sciences Dean Jayne Garland. “This gift will help us build upon an already strong roster of world-class researchers, who come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, and who are finding new and innovative ways to make real and lasting change for people around the world.”

“Ideas like this, that impact the lives of so many, are at the core of what we strive to do in the Faculty of Health Sciences. It is certainly fitting, that in honouring the impact of Dr. Hayden and his idea, that we are setting the stage for research generated here to enrich the lives of Canadians through sport. We are honoured to carry the torch that he lit so many years ago.”

Fast Facts about Special Olympics:

  • more than 45,000 athletes in Canada participate and compete
  • part of a worldwide movement that includes five million athletes in  172 countries
  • In Canada, they compete in 11 summer sports and eight winter sports
  • Athletes’ oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”