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Athletes parade through a colossal crowd of supporters prior to participating the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

Athletes parade through a colossal crowd of supporters prior to participating the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

Athletes parade through a colossal crowd of supporters prior to participating the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

Athletes parade through a colossal crowd of supporters prior to participating the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

Athletes parade through a colossal crowd of supporters prior to participating the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

Athletes parade through a colossal crowd of supporters prior to participating the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

Athletes and their buddies cross the finish line of the 50-meter dash at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

Athletes and their buddies cross the finish line of the 50-meter dash at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

An athlete and his buddy work together during the Wheel Chair Softball Throw at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

An athlete and his buddy work together during the Wheel Chair Softball Throw at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

An athlete is all smiles after conquering the Wheel Chair Softball Throw at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

An athlete is all smiles after conquering the Wheel Chair Softball Throw at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

Athletes and their buddies line up for the opening ceremony of the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

Athletes and their buddies line up for the opening ceremony of the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

The Olympic flame is lit, signifying the beginning of the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

The Olympic flame is lit, signifying the beginning of the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

Thousands and athletes and supporters release balloons at the start of the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

Thousands and athletes and supporters release balloons at the start of the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

A military mentor gives his buddy a pep talk prior to the 30-meter dash at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

A military mentor gives his buddy a pep talk prior to the 30-meter dash at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

An athlete and his buddy work together during the Wheel Chair Softball Throw at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics.

An athlete and his buddy work together during the Wheel Chair Softball Throw at the 2016 Kadena Special Olympics. ()

Almost 900 special-needs athletes turned out for the annual Kadena Special Olympics competition Saturday, living up to the motto “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

The athletes gave their all to reach the finish line, reminding the crowd, including 1,000 volunteer workers that life is about providing inspiration to reach beyond what we thought was possible.

“Kadena Special Olympics has become much more than a sporting event; it unites our communities in the celebrations of the successes and achievements of these inspirational individuals before us,” said Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, 18th Wing commander.

“I urge each and every one of you to learn from the athletes today. Let us take those feelings of camaraderie and try to create a more inclusive community beyond KSO.”

Overall, 5,000 people gathered at Kadena, up from 1,000 for the first event in 2000.

The event, sponsored by the Friends of Kadena Special Olympics and the 18th Wing, was genuinely about the athletes. Upon arrival, they were paired with a military volunteer, their buddy for the day, and then paraded through the crowd. Following the opening ceremony, the Olympic torch was lit and the games began.

Joy was visibly apparent on the athlete’s faces as they competed in running, the wheelchair dash, tennis, basketball, badminton and numerous other track and field events. An art exhibit featuring the work of the athletes was on display.

Lance Cpl. Joseph O’Leary, a volunteer buddy, explained how humbling the day was.

“It is truly inspiring to see these athletes go out and do their best and just see them smile and do something bigger than yourself,” he said.

Bidwell.jessica@stripes.com


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