A special day for athletes, friends at Kadena
Stars and Stripes June 26, 2007
(See photos at end of story)
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — More than 900 special-needs athletes, 1,500 American volunteers and 400 interpreters participated in the 8th Annual Special Olympics Games here Sunday.
Athletes ran in races, slapped floor hockey pucks, chucked softballs, shot hoops, hit tennis balls and did other track and field events at the base’s high school.
The day was soured a little by rain, but folks found shelter during the intermittent downpours under the tents where hot dogs and hamburgers were served, inside the gym for floor hockey games or at the art show, where creations by 250 special-needs artists were displayed.
Many of the volunteers were “huggers,” tasked with cheering on athletes, helping them participate in the events and generally ensuring they and their families enjoy themselves.
Here’s a look at some of the volunteers and athletes:
Gunnery Sgt. Curtis Riceand athlete Hiroaki AsatoIt was hard to tell who was having a better time: Gunnery Sgt. Curtis Rice or Hiroaki Asato.
Both were all smiles.
Rice, a “hugger” at the games, has been volunteering at Special Olympics events for years. His older sister competes in shot put and softball at the games in the States.
“Every year I have something to do (at Special Olympics),” Rice, 31, said. “It’s fun.”
This was his first time helping out with Kadena’s games. Rice spent the day with 12-year-old Hiroaki, his parents and the boy’s teacher. They couldn’t speak each other’s languages, but they communicated with a lot of universally understood laughter and a little miming — and the occasional translator when that didn’t work.
Hiroaki competed in softball toss and the 30-meter dash, but he seemed to have the most fun at the art show, where athletes could add their own creation on ceiling-high group art projects.
He used a crayon to write Rice’s name.
In turn, Rice gave him his Boston College hat. Both Hiroaki and his dad cheer for the Red Sox.
Marine Sgt. Angel Santosas Spider-ManThere was Dora the Explorer, Wonder Dog and SpongeBob Squarepants. Elmo from “Sesame Street” and Blue from “Blue’s Clues.” But Marine Sgt. Angel Santos had the coolest costume.
He was Spider-Man.
Santos, who is based at Kadena, volunteered to wear the Spidey tights and entertain athletes at the games.
Wearing a ski mask underneath his costume so no one could see his eyes, he mingled in the crowds without speaking — only thumbs-up signs and high-fives — posing for pictures and even playing goalie in floor hockey.
“It’s been a really good experience,” Santos, 24, said. “It’s great to see all different ages and disabilities come out and have a good time — there’s no barriers.”
Airman 1st Class Philip Roehlerand athlete Yoshiki Shimoji:Eleven-year-old Yoshiki Shimoji raced the 50-meter dash with his head leaning forward toward the finish line and his “hugger” helping him along.
It was the first appearance both for him and Airman 1st Class Philip Roehler at Kadena’s Special Olympics.
“Oh yeah,” Roehler said when asked if he was having a good time. “Seeing him smile and everything is great.”
Yoshiki’s mom, Satomi Shimoji, said it is difficult for autistic children to socialize and play. Special Olympics gave him an opportunity to engage with others.
“This is a good atmosphere,” she said.
Yoshiki was given a medal as soon as he crossed the finish line on the track, but then he was off without pause for lunch.
“He loves American food,” his mom said.