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The story of Loretta Claiborne

This is an excerpt from Adapted Physical Education and Sport 6th Edition With Web Resource by Joseph Winnick & David Porretta.

Loretta Claiborne was born with visual impairments, clubbed feet, and intellectual disabilities in the projects of York, Pennsylvania. After several surgeries to enable vision and correct her clubbed feet, she finally walked at the age of 4 and talked at the age of 7. Forbidden to participate in school sports because she was in special education, Loretta ran to get away from the bullies. At the age of 18, she became a Special Olympics athlete. Twenty-five years later, in 1996, Loretta received the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPN Espy Awards. In 1999, Disney aired a made-for-TV movie about her life, The Loretta Claiborne Story, and she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show.


Along the way, Loretta completed 26 marathons, including three Boston Marathons, placing among the top 100 of all women each time. In 1988 she finished in the top 25 women in the Pittsburgh Marathon and was named Special Olympics Female Athlete of the Year. In 1991, Loretta was named to the Special Olympics board of directors and was selected by Runner's World magazine as the Special Olympics Athlete of the Quarter Century. The following year she was inducted into the York, Pennsylvania, Sports Hall of Fame and the William Penn High School Alumni Hall of Fame - the same high school that had barred her from the track team because she had intellectual disabilities.


Loretta introduced then-U.S. president Bill Clinton at the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games opening ceremonies in New Haven, Connecticut, and received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Quinnipiac College in Hamden, Connecticut, becoming the first person with intellectual disabilities to receive an honorary doctorate. The Loretta Claiborne Building in York, Pennsylvania, was dedicated in 2001. In 2003, she was awarded a second doctorate of humane letters by Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Currently, her uplifting life story is chronicled in the text, In Her Stride, a feature title in the WorldScapes literacy series for grades 3 through 6.


One of Loretta's most memorable races was a marathon in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Running strong, Loretta noticed another runner beginning to falter. Loretta slowed her pace and stayed with the man throughout the race, encouraging him on; they crossed the finish line together. The other runner? Former world heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes! Now a black belt in karate, Loretta still runs about 5 miles (8 kilometers) every day and also competes in Special Olympics bowling, figure skating, basketball, golf, soccer, skiing, softball, and swimming.

Learn more about Adapted Physical Education and Sport, Sixth Edition.