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News: Thousands turn out for Kadena Special Olympics

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13th annual KSO kicks off with opening ceremony Staff Sgt. Laszlo Babocsi

Tatsuyuki Higa, the torch runner of the 13th annual Kadena Special Olympics, lights the KSO torch during the opening ceremonies on Kadena Air Base, Japan, Nov. 17, 2012. The Kadena Special Olympics is a one-day sporting and entertainment event with nearly 900 special needs athletes and artists participating in a day of competition, music and special recognition. Some of the events featured this year include: running events, wheelchair events, tennis, basketball, floor hockey demonstration, and many other track and field events. An art exhibit showcasing the artwork of 520 special-needs artists was open for viewing at the Risner Gym throughout the day. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Laszlo Babocsi)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan - Thousands of volunteers, supporters and special-needs athletes and artists from all over Japan came to Kadena's Risner Fitness Center Nov. 17 to participate in or support the 13th annual Kadena Special Olympics.

"This is an opportunity for the two communities to meet in joint service to the athletes and build a brother and sisterhood like the ancient Okinawa proverb that says, 'once we meet we are brothers and sisters forever,'" said Brig. Gen. Matt Molloy, 18th Wing commander.

The start of the events kicked off with an opening ceremony where the commander and other distinguished guests including a representative from the Okinawa Prefectural Government gave words of encouragement to the athletes.

One mother of a repeat athlete said even though this is her second time coming to KSO, her son, Keni Maeshiro, is excited to participate in the events and even wakes up earlier than normal to get ready.

With the opening ceremony complete, the athletes were able to explore the field with their "hugger" and compete in their respected events.

"Huggers" are service members from around the base who volunteered to help and encourage special-needs athletes both young and old from Okinawa and the United States throughout the event.

Even though it began to rain, the Olympians kept high spirits and continued to compete in their various events such as, softball, hockey, basketball, and track and field.

Kadena Special Olympics began in 2000 with approximately 400 athletes and 600 volunteers as an 18th Wing community goodwill initiative to strengthen U.S.-Okinawa relationships. After 13 years, the event has more than tripled in size and participation and even caught the attention of Dave Lenox, vice president of leadership development and education for the Special Olympics.

"(The KSO) is a really unique model," said Lenox, who traveled to Okinawa to check out the KSO in person. "It's community building at its core, and that's something that the rest of the Special Olympics is just now beginning to make as a priority. That's why I'm here, because it's one of the models we really want to try and replicate around the world."

Kadena Special Olympics brings the Okinawan and military communities together, said Lenox. It helps to build both communities by working together for a common goal: the experience of the athletes.

While the commander presented medals to the athletes and visited events, he said this is not a Kadena thing; this is an Okinawa service thing, and everyone was charged to help.

"This was an opportunity for us to open the gates and send out an invitation of celebration to the local community," Molloy said.


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Public Domain Mark
This work, Thousands turn out for Kadena Special Olympics, by A1C Malia Jenkins, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:11.17.2012

Date Posted:11.17.2012 04:48

Location:OKINAWA, AICHI, JP

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