Loretta Claiborne was born the middle of seven children in a poor, single-parent family in York, Pennsylvania. Partially blind and with intellectual disabilities, she was unable to walk or talk until four-years-old. Today, Claiborne is an accomplished athlete, motivational speaker, member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, and Chief Inspiration Officer for Special Olympics.
Once she found Special Olympics and began running, she never looked back. Before she knew it, she had crossed the finish line of twenty-six marathons. She introduced President Bill Clinton at the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games, has won medals in dozens of its events and also holds the current women's record in her age group for the 5000 meters at seventeen minutes. In 1996, she won ESPN's ESPY Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.
Loretta says, "If it weren't for sports, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I was very angry before and sports was the arena that turned that around for me.” She felt isolated all her life, which is the feeling many people around the world are feeling right now during this time of physical distancing. It’s a feeling people with intellectual disabilities face all the time. With Special Olympics, Loretta was able to find her team and feel included in the world.
For Loretta, the most rewarding part of her life has been her involvement with Special Olympics, and she wants to continue providing a voice for people with intellectual disabilities. In addition to all of her other roles, she serves as a mentor to athletes around the world, including Chaica Al Qassimi, a Special Olympics UAE athlete. Both Chaica and Loretta had the opportunity to share their stories in front of many people on the Call to Unite a 24-hour livestream event on Friday, 1 May at 8 p.m. EST. You can watch their stories here: