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Loretta Claiborne Overcame the Obstacles of a Lifetime

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RALEIGH — For many of the athletes competing in the upcoming World Games, theSpecial Olympicsoffers more than sports. It also offers acceptance, and sometimes it completely changes lives.

Ask Loretta Claiborne about Special Olympics and she will tell you it has turned her life around.

"Special Olympics has given me a lot of self-esteem," she said. "It gave me a lot of discipline, but most of all it took away a lot of the bad feelings I had about myself."

Those bad feelings had consumed much of Claiborne's childhood. She grew up in a poor family in York, Pennsylvania. She could not see or walk until she was 4 years old, when she had several operations. All that and a mental disability made school a nightmare for Claiborne. Other kids made fun of her and called her names.

Doctors said she should be institutionalized, and Claiborne lived on the outskirts of acceptance until she was 12 and she became a part of Special Olympics.

"It was so cool. Everyone was in a special grade," she said. "Nobody called us names. Everybody had a ball."

Since then, Claiborne has done more than most people will ever do in sports and everyday life. She has run 25 marathons and she has traveled the world speaking about Special Olympics.

Claiborne introduced the President during Opening Ceremonies at the 1995 World Games. She is the only person with mental retardation in the U.S. to receive an honorary doctorate, and she receivedESPN's Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.

Now,Disneyis making a movie about her life.

Claiborne spends much of her time speaking in public. She hopes to change people's perceptions and she wants to help others the way that Special Olympics has helped her.

"Special Olympics has done so much for me," she said. "I always say God is my strength and so is my joy, and he's given me some great joy through my life."

From rejection to rejoicing Claiborne has already won her toughest race.

As if that list of accomplishments is not enough, Claiborne is also a 4th degree black belt; andRunner's World Magazinechose her as their athlete of the quarter century.

Everyone will have a chance to watch her compete in the half-marathon during the World Games.

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Tracey Wilson, Reporter
Richard Adkins, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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