Plans for a permanent monument honoring Chicago’s role in hosting the very first Special Olympics Games 50 years ago was unveiled at a ceremonial groundbreaking event Friday afternoon. Titled the Eternal Flame of Hope, the 30-foot-tall piece of public art will be joined by a new plaza and landscaping on Soldier Field’s north lawn, fronting McFetridge Drive.
The outdoor ceremony was attended by local officials including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. She got the idea to create the Special Olympics in 1967 working as a 23-year-old Park District instructor heading a program for children with intellectual disabilities at West Pullman Park.
One year later, Chicago’s Soldier Field hosted nearly 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada at the first ever International Special Olympics Games. Since 1968, the games have grown into nothing short of a worldwide movement, attracting 5 million athletes from 172 countries.
While Seattle is set to host the 2018 Special Olympics USA on July 1-6, Chicago will hold a 50th anniversary celebration on July 17-21. The multi-day event includes the Unified Soccer Cup competition at Toyota Park, concerts at Northerly Island, and a Global Day of Inclusion at Soldier Field. A four-mile torch run along the lakefront will conclude with the lighting of the statue’s eternal flame.
“The Chicago Park District is proud to have played a part in the founding of the 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,” said Chicago Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly in a statement. “This monument will serve as a reminder of that first event and serve as a beacon symbolizing the potential of every individual for greatness.”
More information about July’s lineup, a full list of participating Chicago sites, and ways to get involved can be found at the Special Olympics’ website.