Galaxy soccer players Omar Gonzalez and Jaime Penedo, healthy and delicious food, and awareness for the Special Olympics World Games… a trifecta I experienced on April 28 at Herbal Life Headquarters in Carson, Ca.
Herbalife is partnering with the Special Olympics World Games to supply 300,000 nutrition bars to the World Games from July 25-August 2, 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 LA Galaxy players Omar Gonzalez and Jaime Penedo, and Special Olympics Southern California soccer players! Prior to the match, the attendees were treated to speeches, beginning with Global Messenger and 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 us, and explained how important Special Olympics are to her.
“Nothing is impossible. Special Olympics has taught me that,” she said.
Then, CEO of Herbal Life Michael Johnson, spoke about the role of Herbalife as a games supplier for the World Games, bringing 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.
Following, the CEO of Special Olympics Patrick McClenahan thanked Herbal Life 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 told us 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,” he said.
The crowd really was abuzz thereafter when Galaxy player Omar Gonzalez spoke, and culminated in a mini soccer match in which four Special Olympics Southern California 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 Gonzalez high-fived them, chest-bumped them, and celebrated their success! Gonzalez 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 must say, they were well-spoken and polite young men. 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 said that once you begin playing, you are already having fun.” 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 that “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, dodgeball, 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. Although Galaxy players Omar Gonzalez and Jaime Penedo are professional soccer players, these young men proved themselves to be world class!
I congratulated these outstanding athletes on their goals, then I said goodbye because just like Ryan, I had to get to track practice.