Kadena student to bowl for Okinawa in Japan Special Olympics
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — As a pro bowler hopeful, a Kadena High School senior is finding that life’s ambitions are taking him back to his roots.
DJ La Marr was born in Tokyo almost 18 years ago, adopted by an American family and now is headed to Kumamoto, Japan, to compete in bowling at the country’s national Special Olympics in November.
“In a way he’s going full circle,” said his father, Daymond La Marr.
DJ will be the first American ever to participate in Japan’s games.
Getting the special-needs athlete and standout bowler on the team representing Okinawa was an arduous process that took more than nine months, said Chip Steitz, the Okinawan Special Olympics advisor who pushed to get DJ accepted into the national games.
“No one ever told me ‘no’ directly but there were a lot of really long pauses, like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” Steitz said, adding he had to recruit the help of the Special Olympics headquarters in Washington just to get the application.
DJ found out only a few weeks ago that he would be able to go.
“He’s so jazzed up about it,” his mother, Diane La Marr, said as she watched DJ bowl during one of his daily after-school practice sessions at Kadena.
Those afternoons of bowling normally are full of silliness with friends but DJ and his Okinawan teammates had to put in documented practice time with the coaches to qualify for the national games.
DJ is the only team member who doesn’t speak Japanese but his coaches and parents said that doesn’t seem to make a difference with the players.
“He’s really in with the kids,” Diane La Marr said, adding DJ’s happy go-lucky personality helps. “They seem to communicate just fine.”
DJ hangs out with one of the athletes in particular, Hitoshi Neho, whom DJ calls his bowling brother. The twosome often can be found giggling and have an unusual ritual for celebrating strikes. They sing “Happy Birthday” — some of the only English Neho knows.
DJ will travel with the bowling team and take part in all the Japanese customs that come with, such as sleeping in a tatami room and going to a bathhouse. DJ went with his dad to an Okinawan bathhouse recently so he’d have an idea of what to do when he was on his own in Japan.
“They assured us he won’t be treated differently than anybody else,” Diane La Marr said.
With money from a $10,000 grant from the American Women’s Welfare Association, Okinawa is sending a tennis and a bowling team to the Nov. 3-5 games. The winners will go on to compete in the Special Olympics World games in Shanghai, China.
When asked his goals for the Japan games, DJ replied with his characteristic smile and shrug: “To bowl perfect games.”