In almost 50 years of advocating for people with intellectual disabilities, Gloria Oyarzun has seen a lot. And some of it still stings.
The longtime Special Olympics Florida coach recalls a time when society tried to ignore people with special needs. When Special Olympics athletes were seen as curiosities, not competitors.
“I remember taking some of my students to a park, to play on the swings and the playground,” she says. “And all of sudden, some of the parents that were there, they rushed in and pulled their children away. I told them, ‘Hey, this isn’t contagious.’
“That’s how naïve some people were. Having an ID was almost like being branded.”
But, she says, things have changed, thanks to the work of groups such as Special Olympics Florida. Gloria was an integral part of that work, helping to build a Special Olympics program in Miami-
She was inspired by the passion of Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. As a student and young, adaptive physical education teacher, she embraced Kennedy Shriver’s commitment to inclusion, sensing that approach was best for people with ID and society in general.
“My biggest hero was Eunice Kennedy Shriver,” said Gloria, who will serve as a bocce coach at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. “She started a revolution, and I wanted to be part of it.”