Alaskans have many reasons to respect their former Senator Ted Stevens (1923-2010), but as he was one of the first and most active supporters of the Healthy Athletes program, Special Olympics athletes all over the world have a particular reason to honor the former lawmaker. On July 28, the Movement’s athletes did just that as part of the first Ted Stevens Day in Alaska.

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

“Without Senator Stevens, we would not have the health-based movement that we have today.  We remain grateful to him for his vision and we are proud to join in cheering for the day that celebrates his legacy,” said Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics Int’l.

During the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage, Alaska in 2001, 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.

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.

Each year going forward, the fourth Saturday in July will remain a day dedicated for Alaskans to remember Senator Stevens.

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