Special needs athletes pass torch towards new strengths
by EVELYN WONG
Inspiring worldwide inclusion through year-round sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics provides athletes with an opportunity to ‘stay in the game.’
According to specialolympics.org, this is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy, the global social movement consists of over 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries.
“The goal of the Games is to bring inclusion and to let people know that athletes even with slight disabilities can perform as well as all other athletes,” said Dotty Sahyouni, Orange County Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) Volunteer Coordinator. “I believe that our purpose as volunteers and supporters of the Games is to spread that message across the world.”
Special Olympics events occur year-round, including competitions at the local, regional and national levels. These events include the Special Olympic World Games, which occur every two years, alternating between summer and winter games.
Held in Los Angeles from July 25 to Aug. 2, the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games hosted athletes from 165 countries. Along with about 6,500 athletes and 2,000 coaches, the event included 30,000 volunteers and an estimated 500,000 spectators, thus making it the largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, according to la2015.org.
“I believe that the Special Olympic Games truly represents everyone, children and adults, who have special needs,” said Naomi Bucio, a senior who attended. “They get a chance to display their athletic talents, and countries from around the world come to support them, much like the regular Olympics. It’s a really special event.”
Featuring 25 sports in different venues across the Los Angeles County region, events included basketball, weightlifting, handball and track and field competitions.
“During the sprints events, as soon as the runners pass by the stands, the spectators greet them with loud cheers,” said Jennifer Hernandez-Oliva, senior. “I love the fact that the athletes are supported throughout the entire race, not just at the finish line.”
The closing ceremony was held Aug. 2 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. All athletes were awarded performance ribbons for their achievements, in addition to gold, silver or bronze medals for those who placed as finalists.
“I think this event was very inspiring because the athletes train vigorously all year long, and they are able to showcase their abilities,” said Victor Meza, senior. “Here, they are able to say, ‘Just because we have special needs doesn’t mean we can’t go out there and compete.’ Each athlete is given their chance to shine.”
Though the colorful Special Olympics flag was lowered and the flame extinguished, the athletes have sparked a flame in the global community that organizers hope will continue to grow, kindling new strength and understanding.