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11-year-old Gregory Greene (left) sprints towards the finish line during the 50-meter dash.

11-year-old Gregory Greene (left) sprints towards the finish line during the 50-meter dash. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

11-year-old Gregory Greene (left) sprints towards the finish line during the 50-meter dash.

11-year-old Gregory Greene (left) sprints towards the finish line during the 50-meter dash. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

Runners compete in the 28th annual Kanto Plains Special Olympics at Yokota Air Base.

Runners compete in the 28th annual Kanto Plains Special Olympics at Yokota Air Base. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

Nine-year-old Natasha Rivera takes off from the starting line during the 50-meter dash at the 28th annual Kanto Plains Special Olympics at Yokota Air Base.

Nine-year-old Natasha Rivera takes off from the starting line during the 50-meter dash at the 28th annual Kanto Plains Special Olympics at Yokota Air Base. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

Nine-year-old Jared Lopez (right) celebrates after winning a silver medal. Lopez said that his favorite event in the games was running.

Nine-year-old Jared Lopez (right) celebrates after winning a silver medal. Lopez said that his favorite event in the games was running. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The happiness on 8-year-old Nate Greene’s face is so great that you would think he just won an Olympic medal.

Instead he stands on the sidelines of the track at Yokota’s Bonk Field while his older brother Gregory wins a silver medal in the 50-meter dash.

Gregory, an 11-year-old special needs student from Yokosuka Naval Base, is one of the more than 300 athletes who came to Yokota this weekend for the 28th annual Kanto Plains Special Olympics. “I feel really good,” said a beaming Gregory, who is competing in his second Special Olypics. “I’m going to put this medal in the Greene Hall of Fame!”

Gregory’s father Nate said coming to the games is all his son talked about for the past month.

“This is the Olympics for him,” he said. “It helps out a lot in boosting his self-confidence.”

Greene explained that the games have become a family affair, with Gregory serving as an inspiration to his two younger brothers.

“I think it was cool watching him run,” Nate said. “I’m very proud of him.”

Having won two silver medals Saturday, 19-year-old Fernando Herrera said that he was looking forward to Sunday’s events, especially bowling.

Being able to compete with their peers is important, explained Fernando’s father, Andy, who said that many times children with special needs do not get the same opportunities to play team sports with other children.

“People need to understand that they are just like the rest of us,” he said. “They too have hopes and dreams and goals they want to accomplish.”

The games do more than just build confidence in the athletes; they serve as a chance to put the spotlight on special needs children, if only for a weekend, said Richard King from Yokota, whose daughter Rebekah is participating in the games for a second year in a row.

“It educates the rest of the base that special need kids can get out and have fun too,” he said. “The kids enjoy all the attention, and it gives us something to look forward to each year.”

King went on to say that another added benefit is the fellowship shared with the families from other bases.

Another parent, Senior Chief Ivan Rivera from Yokosuka, agreed.

“The camaraderie here is really wonderful,” he said. “I met four other families from my community just last night.”

His daughter, Natasha, 9, won a gold medal in the standing long jump.

“I’m very proud of her,” said Natasha’s mother, Charlene. “But the biggest benefit for her is that she came out and did things that she thought she couldn’t do.”

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