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NEWS | Nov. 14, 2014

15th Annual Kadena Special Olympics Brings Community Together

By Staff Sgt. Marcus Morris 18th Wing Public Affairs

The 15th Annual Kadena Special Olympics, one of the largest community relations events in Okinawa, Japan, with nearly 950 athletes and artists combined, was held at the Risner Fitness Center here Nov. 8.

The event kicked off with an opening ceremony where the athletes heard words of encouragement. Afterward a KSO athlete lit the torch, signaling the games to begin.

"Today is a special day for me since my own family has long believed in the importance of the Special Olympics movement," said Caroline Kennedy, ambassador of the United States to Japan. "My Aunt Eunis, the founder of Special Olympics, would be so proud to see all of you here today ready to compete and eager to win, because she was a competitor herself. I commend the Japanese government for taking action to build an inclusive society, and I commend you athletes for leading the way. Special Olympics is about sport and is a vehicle for changing attitudes all over the world, and that's what you athletes will do here in Okinawa, change Japan."

More than 2,500 volunteers from different branches of the U.S. military and the local community helped put the KSO together. The volunteers helped with translations, medal presentations, logistical and medical support, and food preparation and distribution.

"As you walk around today, take a look at the athletes; we can all learn from them," said Brig. Gen. James B. Hecker, 18th Wing commander. "You'll see the innocence in their face, you'll see their competitive spirit, you'll see the courage they have, and you'll see the way they treat one another. I think we can all learn from our Special Olympians."

Throughout the day, athletes competed in a variety of events, including track and field, soccer, ground golf and tennis. Artists also displayed their art in the gallery held inside the RFC.

"This event is important for two reasons -- it is a tremendous outreach and it brings in a group of wonderful adults [who] have special needs that we can celebrate," said Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, 7th Air Force commander. "When you see the smile on the athletes' faces and when they get their medals, it just makes all the work that went into it worthwhile."

Despite the rain throughout the day, everyone gave their all to make this event memorable. At the end of the day, athletes were proudly displaying their medals and smiling while looking forward to coming back next year.

In closing U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Salvatore Angelella said, "I have been watching some of the events, and the athletes are just doing fantastic. I am proud of all the volunteers, the people, the private organizations and especially proud the athletes for making this day possible."

KSO was first held in 2000 as an avenue to build relations with neighboring communities, while providing a meaningful activity for the special needs children and adults.

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