A pioneer sets out to explore and find new territory. He/she must have vision but along with this rare quality must come perseverance, tenacity and diligence. Dr. Frank Hayden displayed these qualities and much more in his quest to provide sporting opportunities for those who are developmentally disabled and intellectually challenged.
Professor Emeritus at McMaster University, Dr. Hayden has also served on the faculties of the University of Toronto and Western. A graduate of the University of Illinois Physical fitness Research Laboratory, he has spent over 40 years designing and evaluating exercise and sport programs. In 1966 he co-authored the first national study of the fitness of Canadian children, which provided the basis for the Centennial Fitness Program and, later, the Canada Fitness Awards. He also co-developed and co-authored the R.C.A.F.’s famous 5BX program.
In the early sixties, testing of children with intellectual disabilities revealed that they were only half as physically fit as their non-disabled peers. It was assumed that their low fitness levels were a direct result of their disability. Dr. Hayden questioned this assumption. He conducted research which concluded that, given the opportunity, intellectually disabled people could become physically fit, and acquire the physical skills necessary to participate in sport.
His belief and understanding led him to conceive the idea of Special Olympics, a national sports program for people with an intellectually disability. His proposal was originally rejected by the Canadian government, however, his research became known to the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation in Washington D.C. So he went to work with Eunice Kennedy Shriver for the next seven years. Here he served as Director at the Kennedy Foundation and was the catalyst in establishing federal legislation to assist persons with a disability.
He returned to Canada and worked to establish a similar program here. Canada’s first games were held in Toronto in 1969 with 1400 athletes. In 1975 and assumed the position of Director of the School of Physical Education and Athletics at McMaster. From there Dr. Hayden persisted with his dream and established the Special Olympics Office of International Development , assisting with the growth of International programs from 15 to 50.
His list of achievements and awards is remarkable. Here are a few: Honorary Member of the Canadian Olympic Association; Officer of the Order of Canada in 1999 and Order of Canada in 2000. Also, he was recognized recently by the Halton Board of Education as the name of their newest and ‘state of the art’ secondary school here in Burlington is Frank Hayden High School. Dr. Haden legally incorporated “Special Olympics Inc.” and today the program provides training and competition for more than three million athletes in more than 170 countries.