Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Special Olympics

June 6-8, Special Olympians from all over the world descended on the University of Southern California for the World Special Olympics.

Actually, it is the test run for such an event … so there were only 13 or so countries represented, but they were from around the world. I think the farthest were from the United Arab Emirates, but we also met some from Costa Rica, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, Iraq, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

We were there to support my niece, Quetzalli, who competes in Track and Field.

That means we didn't get to see the gymnastics, golf or bocce ball competitions (or others that I was not aware of).

It was a life changing experience.

As always, with things that involve my nieces and nephews, I can't help but be sad that my siblings are not here. But the three remaining were out to cheer on my niece.

She is a force … she does this thing when she runs, head up to the sky.


Long Jump Medallers celebrating, iPhone, 6/8/2014
And she also competes in the long jump.

I was overwhelmed just watching.

You have to run, hit just the right spot and then jump up in the air while propelling yourself forward.

Yeah … I would never have the guts to compete in that event let alone do well. She took bronze.

Bronze for long jump!, iphone, 6/8/2014
It was the first time I was able to see her run in person.

My brother's spirit was all around us … I could almost hear him cheering Quetzalli on.

Q's Relay Team, iPhone, 6/7/2014
We got the most special gift of witnessing the strength, power and inspiration of these Special Olympians.
Gold!, iPhone, 6/7/2014

While we waited between Quetzalli's events, we cheered on the other competitors from all over the world. We saw young Muslim girls covered from head to toe running at full tilt in the hot sun. We watched athletes leave their wheelchairs or walkers at the side of the track to race without assistance.

I won't lie, we quickly got attached to these very special athletes. We even picked favorites.
Long Jump
There was this young man [number 181] who was so earnest in his competition.  We watched as he ran sprints, stretched and got pumped up before each of his races.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the man who danced up a storm while waiting for his turn to compete.  There was something so magical about their enthusiasm and energy. Each one brought his or her own winning spirit to the games and wore them proudly.  

181 Fan Club, presente!

Even when they seemed sad about not having come in first.  There were a few dramatic finishes with the winner or another competitor collapsing at the end -- either out of exhaustion, sheer excitement or actual physical impairment. 

There were volunteers in a line cheering and another line to welcome all the runners.  [I noted that some had to remind the athletes they needed to slow down because it was over ... they could have run forever!]

My brother noted that the volunteers welcoming in the competitors was the best job.  Some athletes wanted high fives, others only wanted a big hug, and still others required some pep talking.

Then there was my tocaya who happens to be from our home county.  Her mom was sitting in the stands near us … going crazy every time her daughter competed.  That's how we found out her name.
Mi tocaya, #399

We learned the colors of the various teams, wishing we knew the names of the competitors to add them to our cheers.  We did add in the names of all of Quetzalli's teammates.

It was a lovely, inspiring experience, super painful sunburn notwithstanding.

The volunteers wore t-shirts with a warning on the back: Special Olympics is addictive.  I think they are right.  I am seriously considering volunteering with the local team … in all my free time!

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