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Loretta Claiborne, renowned speaker, world class runner and Special Olympic athlete, visited University of WisconsinStout for a SPEAK UP event on Thursday, Oct. 12. She spoke to students in a Q&A about intellectual disability, her life and the importance of diversity.

Claiborne said that running is something she has been doing her whole life. She recalled that she started running with her brother when she was very young, and that’s how it all started.

Claiborne became involved with Special Olympics in 1970, two years after its creation. She said that a counselor at a school to work program she was involved in noticed her running and gave her the opportunity to get involved.

Claiborne said that being a part of the Special Olympics helped her with behavioral problems she was having.

“I would have outbursts,” Claiborne said. [Special Olympics] helped me accept who I was.”

Claiborne said her mother was a large part of her success as an athlete.

“I wanted to quit,” Claiborne said. “[My Mom] said ‘if you quit you’ll always be quitting.’

Claiborne has accomplished many things throughout her life, including earning a 4th degree black belt, meeting five presidents of the United States, communicating in four languages and completing two honorary doctorate degrees.

Claiborne said being a part of Special Olympics is still the thing she’s proudest of. She said she is especially proud of the way it has grown.

Claiborne now spends much of her time speaking to students. She said that middle school students are the people she tries to reach the most.

“That’s where the kids are really growing up and it’s a tough age,” Claiborne said, “A lot of bullying is happening in those sixth, seventh and eighth [grades].”

For college students, Claiborne said she focuses on the equal and fair treatment of people with intellectual disabilities in society, especially as they move into the workforce.

“It’s okay to hire someone with an intellectual disability or someone who’s differently able,” Claiborne concluded. “They deserve the same chances and the same rights as everyone else.”

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