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Michael Cusack (1956–2020), original Special Olympics medalist

by Linnea Crowther

Michael Cusack was an athlete with Down syndrome who won a gold medal in freestyle swimming at the first Special Olympics in 1968.

An inspirational athlete

While growing up in Chicago, Cusack began participating in a sports program for children with intellectual disabilities. He was the first student to join the program, impressing his coaches with his athletic abilities and inspiring others to join. The program grew into the first Special Olympics, a citywide competition held at Soldier Field and supported by a grant from the Kennedy Foundation. Cusack was 12 years old when he won his first Special Olympics medal. His coach insisted the competition never would have happened – and never would have grown into today’s Special Olympics – if not for his pioneering participation. Cusack would go on to medal many times over the years, specializing in swimming but also excelling in track and field, bowling, basketball, golf, and other sports.

Tributes to Michael Cusack

Full obituary: The New York Times

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