El Segundo High School

The partnership between Galaxy players, Herbalife, and the Special Olympics World Games

World-famous Los Angeles Galaxy soccer players Omar Gonzalez and Jaime Penedo, healthy and delicious food, and awareness for the Special Olympics World Games–a trifecta I experienced Tuesday, April 28at Herbalife Headquarters in Carson, California.

Herbalife is partnering with the Special Olympics World Games to supply 300,000 nutrition bars to the July 25-August 2 world games; it’s a congruent mission between both the World Games and Herbalife in commitment to health, diversity, and community as well as acceptance and inclusion.

It was an exciting event, highlighted by a mini soccer match between Galaxy players Omar Gonzalez and Jaime Penedo and Special Olympics soccer players from southern California. Prior to the match, the attendees were treated to speeches, beginning with former Special Olympics athlete Debi Anderson, a gold medalist. She had competed in the Special Olympics for 16 years doing gymnastics, volleyball, and–her favorite–bowling. She welcomed the crowd, and explained how important Special Olympics are to her. “Nothing is impossible,” she said. “Special Olympics has taught me that.”

Then the CEO of Herbalife, Michael Johnson, spoke about the role of Herbalife as a Games supplier for the World Games brining good nutrition to athletes, coaches, and volunteers through donating 300,000 nutrition bars, and as serving as the official registration hub for more than 300,000 volunteers for the Special Olympics this year.

Then, Patrick McClenahan, the President and CEO of LA2015, the World Games Organizing Committee, thanked Herbalife and talked about the games. He said that there will be over 25 sports in only 12 days, and that it will be covered live by ESPN. He said that it is the largest event Los Angeles has ever held. There will be 4.4 million athletes from all around the world. “Sports lead to change, one community at a time.”

The crowd really was abuzz thereafter when Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles Galaxy player, spoke, culminating in a mini soccer match in which four Special Olympics athletes each made a goal on the world-famous soccer goalie, Jaime Penedo. The excitement on the athlete’s faces was infectious, and the crowd went wild when Omar high-fived them, chest-bumped them, and celebrated their success. Omar displayed a genuine kindness and compassion, and was a true ambassador for acceptance and inclusion.

After this fun time, I spoke to the Special Olympic Southern California athletes. They were Ryan (23), Andrew (18), Luca (20), and Johnny (19).  Ryan and Johnny are from Inglewood, and Andrew and Luca are from Hawthorne. I asked them, “What does it mean to be a Special Olympics southern Californian athlete?” Andrew said that, to him, “it means having fun and enjoying sports.” He told me that he has been playing soccer for two years and basketball for five years, and that “That’s just how I roll. I don’t give up. It motivates me. I keep going.” Ryan said that it means to “not give up and keep going.” Luca said: “when you are an athlete, you don’t give up and you show respect to your opponents, and have good sportsmanship.”

I asked them what are their accomplishments? Ryan said that he has gold, silver and bronze medals. Johnny said that he has ten medals for basketball. Andrew said that he is proud that he played and tried his best, and that he has met many friends. He said that winning is great, but so is making friends. Luca said that he made many friends in basketball. He said that he loves when they announce his name in front of a lot of people, and that it is so exciting.

I asked them their favorite sports. Ryan said that he likes basketball, bowling, point guard, and that he has had three home runs in baseball. Then, we bonded over the fact that he did track in high school, which I do right now! Andrew said that his favorite sport is basketball, he also said he likes soccer, football, dodge ball, and rock climbing.  Luca and Johnny agreed that their favorite sports are baseball, soccer, football, and basketball.  These young men truly exemplified what it means to be an athlete, and a competitor with good sportsmanship. While Galaxy players Omar and Jaime are professional soccer players, these young men proved themselves to be world class.

–Cece Jane