Today was a remarkable day for the Special Olympics World Games athletes from Macedonia and Barbados, as they were treated to a coveted behind-the-scenes tour of the Toyota Sports Center to look around at other athlete’s training life. Specifically, the Lakers’ and Kings’ training facilities in El Segundo.
The World Games athletes began their visit with a luncheon jointly hosted by the Kings and the Lakers in the Toyota Sports Center King’s Cove Cafe. They dined with a view of the ice, and were visited by Kings’ mascot, Bailey the Lion.
After a delicious lunch, the teams toured the Lakers and Kings private training facilities, and I was a lucky participant as a Host Town El Segundo volunteer. We entered through the office for the Kings. We first went into their gym. It was packed with equipment, and it was spotless. Also, it smelled good- not at all what I would expect in a gym! The athletic trainer for the Kings gave some words of advice, and then, something very exciting and special happened. Three Kings players came to hang out with the athletes! Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Alec Martinez came. Tyler showed some athletes how to use some of the equipment. Then, we went into another room to ask questions. One athlete asked if they ran, since the athlete was a competitive runner, and the Kings replied by saying “only occasionally.” They discussed their busy, seven day a week schedule and their past achievements. An athlete asked the Kings, “Who is your favorite hockey player?” Then, Tyler and Alec both immediately responded, “Jeff Carter.” Then, the athlete said, “Is he still alive?” And they said that he was the one sitting between them! The athletes laughed along with the players in the funny misunderstanding. Then, the athletes went with the Kings through their immaculate locker room to watch a video that was a short sum up of the Kings past few years. It showed the bad times (when the Ducks were actually doing well (grr), the good times (TWO STANLEY CUPS!), fan moments, and much more. Watching the video made me smile because it brought me back into the feeling I feel at every Kings game I attend, and it was such an amazing experience to get to have the World Games athletes interact with the Kings, a team so special to Los Angeles. This team has been a vital part of my life since day one, and I am so happy that the athletes got to experience what we are lucky enough to have.
As if that was not exciting enough, thereafter, the athletes went to tour the Lakers private facilities. We began by looking around at the locker room and the gym. Then, we went onto the court where the Lakers practice. This was very exciting for many of the athletes because a significant amount of them are in the Special Olympics for basketball. They got to shoot around and play with each other, and they all seemed so happy. The way they ran up and down the court, and how if they did not make it, they would not get discouraged, it made me so happy. And, when they made a basket the smiles were huge, and the high fives were plentiful.
As the World Games athletes exited the facilities they were given swag bags from both the Kings and the Lakers. It was hard to bid good bye to this amazing afternoon, but the World Games athletes needed to head to Dockweiler Beach for a beach party and fun, yummy dinner hosted by the El Segundo Lifeguards.
Overall, this was a great day for the World Games athletes in preparation for the July 25 start of the World Games. I know I can speak on behalf of the athletes from Macedonia and Barbados, as well as for the City of El Segundo in saying thank you to the Kings and Lakers organizations for opening not just your facilities, but your hearts to bring delight to the lucky athletes who got to be a part of Los Angles athletics for one very special afternoon!