Rain can't dampen spirits of Special Olympians on Okinawa
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Even an autumn storm that swept high winds and rain through the base couldn’t dampen the spirits of the more than 4,600 special-needs athletes and volunteers taking part in Kadena’s 12th annual Special Olympics.
The festivities featured various sport competitions, including races, a wheelchair softball throw, a beanbag drop, ground golf, floor hockey and wheelchair dance. There was even an art exhibit.
U.S. military and local community officials, including Lt. Gen. Burton M. Field, Commander of US Forces Japan and Brig. Gen. Matthew H. Molloy, Commander of the 18th Wing, delivered congratulatory remarks to encourage the athletes during the opening ceremony.
In between the heavy rain, hundreds of athletes competed in races at the Risner Fitness complex while double the number of American volunteers lined the track to encourage them on.
Tsugushi Toma, 19, was all smiles after crossing the finish line.
“I have never seen my son so freely expressing his emotion in public,” said his father, Toshihiko. It was the first time Tsugushi took part in the event.
Special Olympics, which was started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver at her Maryland home in early 60’s as a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities. It has grown into a major international event for more than 3 million athletes around the world.
Hiroyuki Urasaki is among the athletes who have taken part in every event at Kadena Air Base.
“For someone like my son, who has Down syndrome, it is very rare to have an opportunity to meet with many people like in this event,” said his father, Tatsuhiro.
“Meeting new people will connect him with the society, which helps him to grow,” he said.
Hiroyuki’s escort, Luis Avila, hospital corpsman at Camp Kinser, found out through an interpreter that Hiroyuki has love for baseball and basketball. That’s when his interest in his Japanese guest grew more. Taking out a sheet of paper with basic words in both Japanese English, he scrambled to look for a word to ask more questions.
Soon, Avila learned that the Okinawan high school student loves the 3-kilometer run.
“I do 5-K run, too,” he said as the two exchanged smiles.
“In spite of the weather, you see joy and laughter,” said Chip Steitz, chairman of the finance and public relations committee for Special Olympic Japan’s Okinawa chapter.