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Michael 'Moose' Cusack, a Man With Down Syndrome Who Helped Inspire Special Olympics, Dies at 64

Special Olympian Michael ‘Moose’ Cusack, who had Down syndrome, has died at the age of 64 from natural causes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Chicago Tribune, he died on Dec. 17. Now-Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke, who volunteered for a Chicago recreational program for people with disabilities, told the Chicago Tribune that Cusack’s enthusiasm helped inspire the Special Olympics.

Cusack’s sister, Constance McIntosh, told Today that his mother was “a little hesitant” about first signing Cusack up for Burke’s recreational program because “nobody knew what people with intellectual disabilities were capable of, but she decided it was her job to let him shine.” Cusack’s parents, according to McIntosh and Burke, supported their son in sports and in his life in general. After Chicago Public Schools failed to offer accommodations for Cusack, his parents hired a teacher to teach him and other kids with disabilities in their neighborhood.

When he was 12 in 1968, Cusack competed at an event at Soldier Field which would later become the Special Olympics, winning his first gold medal for the 25-meter freestyle in swimming. Cusack also demonstrated good sportsmanship, according to McIntosh in Today. “He was always a happy, generous competitor. I can tell you that dozens of times, I saw him congratulate someone who had had either beaten him or someone who medaled in another event,” McIntosh said.

Cusack then went on to participate in many different Special Olympics games at the local, state, national and international levels. Cusack competed regularly in swimming competitions — his forte — until 10 years ago when he had a stroke. But McIntosh said that he still had “the heart of a champion.”

It is common for people with Down syndrome like Cusack to develop Alzheimer’s disease. According to the National Institute of Aging, most people who have Down syndrome develop beta-amyloid plaques, a key characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Estimates suggest that 50% or more of people with Down syndrome will develop dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.

After his passing, Cusack’s powerful legacy can be seen through the success and growth of the Special Olympics. There are over 5 million Special Olympics athletes around the world and 7,500 athletes competed at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games, according to the Chicago Tribune.

McIntosh told Today she hopes people look at her brother’s life and value his accomplishments. “I think that living by his example will make us better people in the long run. He really was the embodiment of all the human qualities that we cherish,” McIntosh said.

Image courtesy Constance McIntosh