The former first lady, who was welcomed on stage with a standing ovation, presented the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Shriver’s son, Timothy Shriver, who now chairs the Special Olympics.
“I am here tonight to honor a remarkable woman, a woman who believed that everyone has something to contribute and everyone deserves a chance. When we give others the chance to fulfill their greatest potential, we all win,” Mrs. Obama said before being joined by Special Olympians. “Through her passionate service, she made our world more welcoming, inclusive and fair.”
“She wanted to be known as a great hero of sports, and tonight she got it,” Timothy said of his late mother in his acceptance speech. “My mother knew one thing, that the athletes of Special Olympics deserve the same glory as any athlete around the world.”
“She’s here in the hearts and minds of millions of athletes,” he added. ‘She’s here in the hearts and minds of those who believe in inclusion and willing to act on it … This movement she created almost 50 years ago is not done yet.”
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy, died of a stroke in 2009 at 88. She founded the Special Olympics games in the late 1960s to help empower people with intellectual disabilities. Her inspiration to create the games was her own sister, Rosemary.
Mrs. Obama said in a statement ahead of the ESPYs that Kennedy Shriver’s work helping people with developmental challenges transformed lives and “inspired us all.”
“Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a passionate champion for those with developmental challenges, empowering them to fulfill their highest potential,” Mrs. Obama said in her statement, according to ABC News. “Her work to promote inclusion and acceptance transformed the lives of countless young athletes and inspired us all. I am incredibly honored to present this award to her son to celebrate her life’s work.”
Kennedy Shriver’s daughter, Maria Shriver, told PEOPLE in 2015 that her mother’s legacy “started in the backyard” after “watching her sister Rosemary be ostracized by the world.” (Camp Shriver — a summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities that eventually evolved into the Special Olympics — was first held at Kennedy Shriver’s Maryland farm in 1962.)
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“Mummy’s legacy started in the backyard. It really started in her own home, in her own heart, in her own relationship with her sister, and her parents and her siblings,” Maria said. “Then it went to the yard, then it went to a stadium, and then it went to another country and then it just dominoed.”
“These games have been game-changing,” she added, in helping people become more understanding and empathetic toward people with intellectual disabilities.