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Okinawa chapter chairwoman Michiko Yasuda presents a certificate of appreciation to Kadena Air Base 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Brett Williams.

Okinawa chapter chairwoman Michiko Yasuda presents a certificate of appreciation to Kadena Air Base 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Brett Williams. (Natasha Lee / S&S)

Okinawa chapter chairwoman Michiko Yasuda presents a certificate of appreciation to Kadena Air Base 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Brett Williams.

Okinawa chapter chairwoman Michiko Yasuda presents a certificate of appreciation to Kadena Air Base 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Brett Williams. (Natasha Lee / S&S)

Members of the Okinawa chapter’s floor hockey team pose with Special Olympics Nippon President Yuko Arimori. (far right, with clenched fist)

Members of the Okinawa chapter’s floor hockey team pose with Special Olympics Nippon President Yuko Arimori. (far right, with clenched fist) (Natasha Lee / S&S)

KADENA TOWN, Okinawa — After nine years of rallying for special needs athletes, the Special Olympics Nippon, Okinawa Chapter is now official.

The organization became Japan’s 35th chapter during an inauguration ceremony Tuesday at the Kadena Town Central Public Hall.

The road to recognition has been tough but rewarding, Okinawa chairwoman Michiko Yasuda said Tuesday.

Dozens of community and political officials, including Kadena Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi and 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Brett Williams, shared words of gratitude during the ceremony.

"You should all be very proud of what you accomplished to establish this new chapter," Williams said during a toast.

Williams said it’s important for servicemembers to help the athletes cross the finish line as winners.

"It helps them excel and enjoy the same self-esteem that others who aren’t similarly challenged do," he said.

What started off as a barbecue for athletes has morphed into a year-round program that offers training and competitive sports for developmentally disabled children and adults.

The chapter’s main event, a series of games held at Kadena Air Base, attracts close to 1,000 athletes and nearly double that number in military and civilian volunteers.

The first event nine years ago attracted fewer than 100 people.

Today, the group has about 62 athletes that compete in the organization’s year-round events, and 102 supporting members.

Special Olympics Nippon president Yuko Arimori said she was moved by the generosity shown by the Americans.

"When I heard about this program, I was inspired," she said. "I hope this chapter will continue to grow."

Arimori, a two-time Olympic marathon medalist, said working with Special Olympics was a natural fit.

"As athletes, we speak the same language," she said.


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