News: 14 years in the making, the Special Olympics program on Okinawa is thriving!
Story by Charles Steitz
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan – On Nov. 2, 843 athletes, 1,200 visiting family members along with 1,400 American service member volunteers, 453 Japanese interpreters and 164 Japanese and American entertainers gathered at the Risner Sporting Complex in celebration of the 14th Annual Special Olympics Games.
During the week, 53 tents were assembled along with 1,000 chairs, 24 large coolers and two large forklifts were used to move equipment. More than 50 volunteers from the Air Force, Navy and Marines spent five days setting up the site. On game day, 4,500 hamburgers, 4,500 hotdogs, 10,000 bags of potato chips, 3,000 fruit cups and 8,000 bottles of water were distributed.
From its start in 1968, when the Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, very clear goals were articulated to promote the understanding, acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. In addition to the physical fitness opportunities, the opportunity to be a part of the larger community, to grow socially, and to enhance self-image and confidence are critical to the Special Olympics movement.
The working partnership between the Okinawa and the American military communities to support the local games here is commendable. The local partnership in this community is symbolic of the partnership between the Special Olympics and Japan.
“Being at the Special Olympics was important to me in supporting my son,” said U.S. Army, Staff Sgt. Tony Williams, an operations noncommissioned officer, 10th Regional Support Group. “My son, Jermaine has a minor case of autism as he is able to walk and talk, but takes time for him to comprehend. The events my son participated in were the 50 meter run, and the softball toss which were the two sports he likes to do at school and at home.”
“Special Olympics is a great event in which I will always support, because each child and person needs to understand that people out in the community care and it gives us all a chance to interact and understand their needs. We need to be supportive and they deserve to enjoy nice sporting events,” said Williams.
“My family had a great time, and it was a learning experience for my oldest son [Terrell] by gaining knowledge that every child has a special need, and now he's looking to volunteer for next year’s event,” said Williams.
What a long way, from Chicago, where the first international world games were held in 1968. The motto of the Special Olympics could be the motto for us all: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
As the co-founder of this program, which was established 14 years ago, I wish to thank all the members of the executive organizing committee and the Japanese and American volunteers, for contributing to the dreams of these marvelous athletes and artists and their support of the Special Olympics on Okinawa.