The entire Special Olympics family is saddened by the great loss of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who championed the efforts of Special Olympics throughout his life.
Former Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) at a Capitol Hill reception, pictured with Special Olympics Athletes Billy Quick (left) from North Carolina and Paul Maretti from Virginia. Photo credit: Diana Roday Hosford.
Former Sen. Ted Stevens, 1923-2010
Senator Stevens was consistently a leader - a man of action, not just words. This was especially true of his support for people with intellectual disabilities.
In 2001, his commitment and advocacy assured the success of the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage, an event that showcased the athletes and Special Olympics movement to the world. During those World Games, he convened a special Senate Appropriations Committee Field Hearing on the health needs of people with intellectual disabilities. This would become a turning point in creating a policy and action agenda to address these issues. That hearing stimulated United States Surgeon General David Satcher to commit to Surgeon General Listening Sessions, a national conference on health disparities, as well as the creation of the report Closing the Gap: A National Blueprint to Improve the Health of Persons with Mental Retardation, which has helped build the success of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program.
Senator Stevens made sure that the successful but fledging Healthy Athletes program would get a boost by making the federal government a partner in the effort to improve the health of Special Olympics athletes and others with intellectual disabilities. The first federal resources in support of the program were realized in 2002. He continued his advocacy and support without a pause during his Senate career and was a co-sponsor of the Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act of 2004.
Even after he left the Senate he was proud of his local fundraising work he did on behalf of Special Olympics Alaska. He would also tell the story of how, when he was a child, his family took in a child with intellectual disability as their own. This early exposure taught him lessons that he practiced in his adulthood.
Senator Stevens will be missed by Special Olympics but his legacy will live on forever.