Saturday’s opening ceremony of the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles saw 6,500 athletes from 165 countries around the world pour into the L.A. Coliseum to the sounds of uproarious cheers and applause. According to CBS Los Angeles, it was the largest gathering of athletes in L.A. in one place since the 1984 Olympics.
It was a powerful moment to be sure, but no less powerful that the individual, more personal experiences that are happening each day during this week-long competition.
The goodwill, pride, courage, and sportsmanship displayed by this week’s athletes is amazing. That much goes without question.
And yet the Special Olympics are about more than just an athletic competition. They are the largest public health organization in the world that serves those with intellectual disabilities. During the games volunteer medical professionals provide complimentary examinations in podiatry, vision, hearing, dental health, and more. As Lawrence Downes points out in his excellent write-up for the N.Y. Times, along with medals they earn, athletes will also go home with prescription eyeglasses, hearing aids and shoes that fit.
That’s a big deal, especially for athletes who may be journeying from countries where access to this kind of specialized medical attention is not readily available.
Of course the Special Olympics don’t just change the lives of those who participate, but they can positively affect those who volunteer and even just observe the games during the live events.
One particularly inspiring account I read came from Lori Yearwood, writing for the travel blog roamancing.com.
Lori worked as a volunteer timer at a swimming competition earlier this week and her expereince provides a lens into what it’s like to support these amazing competitors up close:
“The most powerful moments occurred as the athletes left the water and sprinted up the final stretch of sand to cross the finish line. It was my job to record their numbers as they finished so I was right there for all the emotion! The crowd alone swelled my heart as they cheered with all their might for each one of them. To some, it was a distraction and they wanted to stop and high-five people, so we had to jump and wave our arms to keep them running to the finish. Otherwise someone else would pass them! Some could barely walk out of the water, but then a look of determination would light up their faces and they would sprint with all their might. There were a few who collapsed to the ground, having used up every ounce of effort. Pride of accomplishment was in the air with double fists raised up in accomplishment, huge smiles, and some muscle posing for the crowds. I know I’ll never forget the hug I got from one of the athletes as he crossed the line. It was every moment of glory that true sports can bring and I can’t wait to do it all again on Thursday for the finals!”
Reading that makes me feel like maybe I’ve missed something really important by not being at the opening ceremony or any of the competitions so far this week.
Fortunately, there’s still plenty of time to rectify that.
So I today I’ve decided to clear my schedule and head over to the Downtown Convention Center to watch some of the indoor competitions and cheer on the participants, and then hopefully swing down to the USC campus where there are a number of events scheduled in track & field and aquatics.
If you decide you’d like to do likewise, I urge you to check out the complete schedule for the rest of this week’s competitions (there are venues at USC, UCLA, the Downtown Convention Center, Griffith Park, Encino, and Long Beach).
Keep in mind all events are FREE and open to the public. Competitions wrap up on Saturday, with closing ceremonies and festivities all over the city on Sunday.
Maybe I’ll see you there…
Will update this post with pics as I’m able.