Los Angeles has been chosen as host of the 2015 Special Olympics Summer Games, the event's organizers announced Wednesday.
Founded more than 40 years ago by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics is the world's largest athletic competition for the mentally disabled. Organizers said the event will bring about 7,000 athletes and 40,000 volunteers to the region.
Timothy Shriver, Eunice's son and chairman of the Special Olympics, announced the news at Staples Center, where some of the games will be held.
Special Olympics, he said, "is not an event but a movement.
Beginning today, Los Angeles is home to our dignity movement."
Eunice Shriver, sister of President Kennedy, was known for her lifelong support of the mentally disabled — a passion inspired by her sister, Rosemary, whose disabilities were kept secret by the family. In 1962, Shriver opened up about Rosemary in an opinion piece in the Saturday Evening Post titled "Hope for Retarded Children."
The first Special Olympics games were held in Chicago in the summer of 1968. In her opening remarks, Shriver said she wanted to prove that these "exceptional children" could use sports to reach their potential.
The games have grown since then, with an estimated 4 million people from 170 countries taking part in hundreds of programs throughout the year. Once a largely American affair, now about 75% of participants live in other countries, with more in China and India than anywhere else.
At the winter and summer games, athletes compete in nearly two dozen events. In 2015, they will be held at venues across the region, including Staples Center, the Home Depot Center in Carson and Griffith Park. USC and UCLA will put the athletes up in student housing.
At Wednesday's announcement, several Special Olympians shared stories of how the games had changed them and lifted their confidence.
Also present were about a dozen Olympic athletes, as well as former California First Lady Maria Shriver, daughter of Eunice Shriver; Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa, who helped lead the city's failed bid for the 2016 Olympics, said he campaigned hard to woo the Special Olympics.
He said he thought playing host to the Special Olympics is actually a bigger honor than hosting the regular games.
"I can say I'm prouder that we're going to host this," he said.