In June, we released what we believe are five elements to a fearless approach in solving some of the world’s most pressing issues, in our new website and report, “To Be Fearless.” We are asking people to take the pledge to Be Fearless in one (or more!) of the following ways: 1) Make big bets and make history; 2) Experiment early and often; 3) Make failure matter; 4) Reach beyond your bubble; and 5) Let urgency conquer fear.
To celebrate the Olympics, we’ll be featuring a new blog series in partnership with the Special Olympics for the next few weeks, highlighting the fearless journeys of athletes, volunteers, and leadership from the organization. In part one, the Special Olympics features Loretta Claiborne, an athlete and spokesperson who has embodied all of the fearless principles as she has spent her life achieving her dreams.
Loretta Claiborne grew up during the Civil Rights era partially blind with a developmental disability. She was the middle child of seven siblings born to a single mother. The odds were stacked against her. Yet, her story does not mire in pity or despair; rather it beams a radiant light of triumph over tribulation, joy over anger, and hope over fear.
Loretta did not walk or talk until the age of four. Once a child with little hope, who doctors did not think would amount to much, she has completed 26 marathons and travels the world speaking to all ages and educational levels about bullying and the importance of inclusion.
Loretta’s mother was told to put her child in an institution and forget about her. Even after her mom refused, Loretta was bullied so much at school by her peers, her only outward recourse was to use her fists to try and fight back, or sometimes use her feet to simply run away. But one day, she found Special Olympics and everything changed. Her anger was channeled to excelling as a world-class runner and becoming an advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. Today, Loretta holds honorary doctorates from Villanova University and Quinnipiac College, converses in five languages, has a black belt in karate, was the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and sits on the Special Olympics International Board of Directors.
Make Big Bets and Make History.
Loretta has made history and continues to change the way the world views people with intellectual disabilities (ID). Growing up in 1960s America as a poor, black female with disabilities was difficult – but Loretta showed the world and defied all the odds. Before it was publicly acceptable to advocate for people with ID, she courageously championed them and spoke out, bringing light to the horrible injustice that this population faces all over the world. Loretta set out to change attitudes, one person by one person, demonstrating the benefit of inclusive and accepting communities and how the world is a better place when every person is given the opportunity to reach their full potential. Loretta’s courage has changed the course of history for people with ID and is helping give them their rightful place in society. Her story is so powerful that in 2000, Disney produced a movie called “The Loretta Claiborne Story” about her strength and triumph.
Experiment Early and Often.
In a time in the U.S. where people with ID were often institutionalized and not treated equally, Loretta stood up, ran, fought and actively lived her life to show the world the capabilities of people with ID. She lives this out every day of her life, whether she is competing with Special Olympics, running a marathon, speaking to a group of students or going to the grocery store. She seizes opportunities and uses her abilities to be a force for good. Many years ago, Loretta learned to knit. She has used this skill by teaching teen mothers in her community how to knit so they can make clothes for their children. Following Hurricane Katrina, she worked furiously to knit baby caps for storm victims. And after visiting a school in South Africa that lacked the most basic supplies, she began a campaign of collecting school supplies and sending them regularly to the school.
Make Failure Matter.
Loretta exemplifies perseverance and the ability of the human spirit to overcome obstacles and failures. As a result of being bullied, Loretta became an angry child and was often getting in fights as a way to cope. After finding Special Olympics, Loretta learned that anger and fighting were not the solution. She learned that demonstrating what she, as a person with an intellectual disability, could do would help those accept her and others like her. She tells people of all abilities, “Be the best you can be and never let anyone doubt you. Find your opportunity and see what you can do.”
Reach Beyond Your Bubble.
Despite not being able to walk until she was four years old, Loretta utilizes the power of sport to create social change and inclusion and to promote development and peace. At the age of 50, after being an accomplished runner, Loretta reached beyond her athletic bubble and learned to figure skate, eventually competing in the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games in figure skating. Loretta has used the power of sport to instill discipline and self-worth and taught us that adversity means nothing if you are able to step outside of your comfort zone.
Let Urgency Conquer Fear.
Despite significant progress, too many barriers still stand. Every day, all over the globe, people with disabilities are denied their basic human rights, denied access to health care, denied inclusion in their communities and schools and perhaps, most importantly, denied the opportunity to reach their full potential. Knowing that there are still miles to go in this journey, Loretta tirelessly works to overturn the oppression and injustice facing the estimated 200 million people with intellectual disabilities.