Kadena Air Base hosts Special Olympics
Stars and Stripes June 16, 2003
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Kadena’s annual Special Olympics is typically a big event.
This year, it was even bigger with retired sumo wrestler Akebono making a guest appearance.
The 500-pound former grand champion joined an estimated 5,000 participants, volunteers and spectators who gathered here Saturday for the event.
Akebono received a rousing ovation, much louder than any other special guest, when he was announced.
Roughly 650 “special-needs” athletes from Okinawa competed in a variety of track and field events, including 30-meter and 200-meter races, wheelchair contests and, for the first time, floor hockey.
Event coordinators are hopeful Okinawa’s floor hockey team can earn a spot in the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, said Kadena spokesman Charles Steitz.
Some 1,600 volunteers from all four military services on Okinawa were on hand to cheer on the athletes and offer assistance.
Special Olympics, which began in 1968, is a sports training and competition program for the mentally challenged.
Each year, more than 1 million athletes from more than 150 countries compete in 26 summer and winter sports.
This year’s event at Kadena featured an exhibit containing more than 400 pieces of art. It included watercolors, oil paintings, hand-carved items and pottery created by the athletes.
“Some of these guys can’t even walk or hold a paint brush or tool in their hands, and yet they do this incredible art,” said Steitz, noting that some participants used their feet to create their artwork.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker; his wife, Nancy; Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine and local civic and military leaders joined Akebono as special guests.
The event started at 10 a.m. with a parade of athletes. That was followed by opening remarks from several guest speakers, including Inamine. The event ended after 4 p.m.
The base supplied a free lunch, grilling 3,000 hamburgers and 11,000 hot dogs, and passed out thousands of bags of chips and ice-cold cans of soda, Steitz said.