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Honoring the career of Loretta Claiborne, Special Olympics athlete

Loretta Claiborne of York, Pa., is a Special Olympics legend who has not only touched the lives of hundreds of thousands, but has also changed the lives of everyone she has met. Loretta shares her life story that carries a heart-felt message of hope and tolerance for people around the world.  

Claiborne was the middle of seven children in a poor, single-parent family. Born partially blind and intellectually challenged, she was unable to walk or talk until age 4. Loretta is now a world-class runner and gifted motivational speaker who happens to also be a Special Olympics Athlete and a person who has an intellectual disability. In fact, she is perhaps the most celebrated athlete in the history of Special Olympics. 

Loretta's life's accolades are far too numerous to list, but a few of her most impressive awards include two honorary doctorate degrees (Quinnipiac University in 1995 and Villanova University in 2003); completing 26 marathons with a best time of 3:03; and finishing in the top 100 women of the Boston Marathon. She received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 1996 ESPY Awards and is a member of the Women in Sports Hall of Fame and the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. Claiborne is a fourth-degree black belt in karate, can communicate in four languages and is fluent in American Sign Language. She's also appeared twice on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Walt Disney produced a movie on Claiborne's life called "The Loretta Claiborne Story" in 2000, and WorldScapes published a biography on her inspirational life, called "In Her Stride." She's spoken to the U.S. Congress, introduced President Bill Clinton at the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games and was a featured speaker at the prestigious Clinton Global Initiative and TED conferences. The Shriver family selected Claiborne to give the elegy at the funeral for Special Olympics' founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Loretta most recently received a gold medal in soccer at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. Additionally, she holds the current Special Olympics women's record in her age group for the 5000 meters at 17 minutes; and in her early 60s, she's still trying her hand at new sports, like golf.

"I figured if my story could change a person's mind about another person, or especially a child's mind about another child, then it was the right thing to do," Claiborne says on her website, Now in her early 60s, she recalls a time when children taunted her for being different and how the taunting turned her into an angry young woman who was expelled from high school and fired from a job. She credits the Special Olympics with helping her realize that her tremendous athletic talent could be used for good.

She credits her family, community, educators, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her own strong spirituality with giving her the confidence necessary to become a world-class runner.

"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," Claiborne says.

Claiborne says the most rewarding part of her life has been her involvement with the Special Olympics, and she wants to continue to help people with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities succeed. She advises them, "Find an opportunity and seize it. Be the best you can be, and never let anyone doubt you."

Claiborne runs every day — often about five miles, even when she plans to go only three or four — just for the joy of it and the joy of the moment. It's how she lives her life. "I don't really look toward the future because you don't know what tomorrow will be bring," she says. "You have to live your life for today."

WWE Celebrates the accomplishments of Special Olympics legend Loretta Claiborne this February in honor of Black History Month. WWE served as the Official Production Partner of the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games.

Black History Month