Officials break ground for Special Olympics Eternal Flame
April 5, 2018

Officials from Special Olympics and the City of Chicago held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Special Olympics Eternal Flame of Hope near Soldier Field.

Special Olympics officials joined the Chicago Park District in March at a groundbreaking ceremony held for the Eternal Flame of Hope, a permanent, 30-foot monument for Special Olympics at Soldier Field, the site of the first games 50 years ago. The Eternal Flame of Hope will occupy part of Soldier Field’s North Lawn, off of McFetridge Drive.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly, Special Olympics International CEO Mary Davis, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, and four Special Olympics athletes who participated in the first games in 1968 attended the ceremony to celebrate the monument as a symbol of inclusion.

“The Eternal Flame of Hope not only celebrates Chicago as the birthplace of the Special Olympics, it is a testament to the depth and talent of athletes who compete at the highest level every year,” Emanuel said. “The Special Olympics will always have a home in Chicago, and we are proud to support the participating athletes who showcase to the world what it means to be an Olympian.”

“The Chicago Park District is proud to have played a part in the founding of Special Olympics and to carry on the great legacy through the inclusive programming we run for children and adults with intellectual disabilities at more than 21 park locations across the city,” Kelly said. “This monument will serve as a reminder of that first event and…a beacon symbolizing the potential of every individual for greatness.”

On July 20, 1968, nearly 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 26 states and Canada came together at Soldier Field for the first International Special Olympics Games.

According to Special Olympics International CEO Mary Davis, “The Eternal Flame of Hope monument will be a constant reminder that, when in doubt, choose to include. The monument symbolizes the eternal hope that Special Olympics provides to athletes and their families, and in turn, the eternal hope that Special Olympics athletes provide to the world.”

The idea for Special Olympics came from then 23-year-old Anne McGlone Burke, a Chicago Park District instructor who in 1967 was running a program for children with intellectual disabilities at West Pullman Park. She presented the idea of a citywide track meet to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, and City of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. The combined resources and commitments of the Kennedy Foundation, Daley, and others led to those first games.

This summer, Tuesday through Saturday, July 17 through 21, Chicago again will host athletes from around the world for a 50th anniversary celebration. On Friday, July 20, law enforcement officers from across the region will run alongside Special Olympics athletes in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, a four-mile run on the lakefront bike path that concludes with lighting the Eternal Flame of Hope.

Saturday, July 21, will represent a Global Day of Inclusion at Soldier Field, with sports activities, interactive games, exhibits, food, and live entertainment. The week of celebrations will close with a star-studded evening of entertainment at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island.

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