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Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was posthumously awarded the  Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 25th annual ESPYS on Wednesday, July 12th.  Click here to view the video that was shown prior to the award presentation. Former First Lady Michelle Obama explains the extraordinary life and accomplishments of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Chairman Timothy Shriver accepted the award on behalf of the Shriver family and was joined on stage by eight Special Olympics athletes, including our very own York County athlete and Chief Inspiration Officer for Special Olympics, Loretta Claiborne, who was given the same award at the ESPYS back in 1996!

In anticipation of this inspiring moment of recognition, The ESPYS also honored three of our Pennsylvania athletes by presenting them with an honorary ESPY award in recognition of their talent, dedication and enthusiasm for athletics. Congratulations to Justin Jones from Allegheny County, Sebastian Joynes (Shiro) from Area M, and Matt Grabowski from Philadelphia.  


2017 Arthur Ashe Courage Award Honorary Winners

Justin “JJ” Jones – Swimming, Allegheny

JJv221-year old Justin Jones aka JJ has been with SOPA for 3 years, competing in multiple sports, with swimming as his favorite. JJ graduated from Allerdice High School where he made honor roll and citizenship honor roll, which included a star by his name during graduation to signify his accomplishments. He currently participates in City Connections and attends UPMC vocational training. When he isn’t studying, JJ volunteers at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (teacher’s union hall) in maintenance and landscaping. He spends his free time reading, especially anything that helps him learn about the entertainment industry. JJ’s father is a pastor and during each sermon he asks people to shake someone’s hand to spread the love. JJ calls it the “Shake and Spread”, and it’s a motto he tries to live by every day. Everyone who meets him describes this gentleman as easy going, very helpful, loving and willing to lend a hand to anyone in need. JJ’s love for people shines through in his interactions with everyone, especially his teammates and family. His older brother is an awesome bowler who often offers him tips, which must run in the family because their grandparents started a children’s bowling league in their hometown. And JJ’s older sister shares his love of travel, bringing him along on as many adventures as possible, so they can “Shake and Spread” everywhere they go!  Click here to view JJ's media coverage.


Matthew Grabowski – Basketball, Philadelphia

Matt Grabowskiv2Matthew Grabowski has been a part of Special Olympic since 2010. Matt participates in a wide variety of sports including 5v5 basketball, bowling, floor hockey, soccer, and softball. Of these, Basketball is his favorite because he has the most memories with this sport. Matt is an energetic and determined individual and is always talking about sports. From what the next play will be, how to improve a skill, or how the Eagles are doing – Matt will be a full inclusive participant in the conversation. His coaches saw this drive and leadership in Matt and in 2016, he was asked to serve on Philadelphia’s Athlete Leadership Committee to be a voice for his fellow athletes to help improve training sites, competitions in Philadelphia, and in other areas. As part of this committee, Matt makes suggestions to program managers and is involved in solutions to make all aspects of the program better for athletes. With Matt’s experience in attending competitions ranging from the local to national level and fundraising events, Matt is an expert on how events should run and often gives great suggestions that are implemented. What Matt loves about being on this committee are the people he is surrounded by. All committee members are passionate about making Special Olympics the best experience it can be and making sure that trainings and competitions are top notch for both athletes and spectators alike.  Click here to view Matthew's media coverage.


Sebastian Joynes (Shiro) – Golf , Area M

SebastianSebastian Joynes lived an isolated life before he found Special Olympics. His mother, Ruth Joynes, knew getting out in the world was crucial for his development, socialization, learning and quality of life. Yet when she brought him out to a local recreation program, he was asked to leave -- and not return. Sebastian, who has intellectual disabilities and is autistic, did not hear the admonishment. For Ruth, however, the message was loud, clear and devastating. “Sebastian had a life of seclusion, no friends and no social life. I was very apprehensive that would continue.” Eventually, things changed for the better -- his life blossomed and his social circle forever widened -- when Ruth took her son to a golf outing at Special Olympics Pennsylvania-York County. After golfing and meeting with other athletes, Sebastian turned to her and said, “Mommy, I really like this place. I want to come back.” Sebastian, who turned 21 in February 2017, still happily keeps coming back. "I was on top of the world,”Joynes said after observing Sebastian compete, have fun and, most importantly, gain acceptance among his peers. “Everyone was like him, and everyone was happy.”  Sebastian continues with Special Olympics PA as an athlete in our Area M program.  Click here to view Sebastian's media coverage.


Honorable Mention

Loretta Claiborne – Athletics, York

Loretta will join Tim Shriver on stage during the ESPYS, having won one back in 1996!

LorettaMs. Claiborne, a Special Olympics athlete, is a world-class competitor and one of the most inspirational and remarkable women of our time. Ms. Claiborne has competed in more than 26 marathons, twice finishing with the top-100 women runners in the Boston Marathon. She won gold medals in the 1991 and 1999 Special Olympics World Games half-marathon. She communicates in four languages and holds an honorary doctorate degree from Quinnipiac University and Villanova University. In 1996, she appeared on ESPN’s “ESPY” Awards show, receiving the coveted Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. Additionally, Ms. Claiborne's life was the basis for a Wonderful World of Disney film called “The Loretta Claiborne Story.” Ms. Claiborne is a passionate advocate for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. She has traveled throughout Africa, where she joined former President Nelson Mandela to bring awareness of the benefits of Special Olympics and to recruit new athletes as a part of Special Olympics’ global growth campaign.