As 1,100 athletes, 3,400 volunteers, and 10,000 spectators rolled onto the Cal State Long Beach campus this past weekend, The Special Olympics Southern California Special Summer Games, were off to a great start. The theme for this year’s Summer Games was “United We Play. United We Win,” and included competitions in many sports, including: bocce, aquatics, athletics (track and field), basketball, golf, and gymnastics. Athletes ranging from age 8 to “any age” participated!
One bocce athlete, Kenneth Skinner, who is 52 years old, and from Colton, California, has been participating in the Special Olympics for 38 years. He was not only participating in the Southern California Olympics, but he is also going to compete in the Special Olympics World Games from July 25 – Aug. 2! When I asked him how he felt after he and his team won their match on Saturday, he said “it felt good, and that it was great because they had another match tomorrow!” I asked him how he was training for the World Games, and he said “through experiences like this. Just playing, whether competing or not.” He also said that “he was training at the practice sites.” I asked him what he is most looking forward to, and he just said “bocce!” He told me that he “tries his best to win, and that he currently has 949 medals.” Wow!!
After viewing many events and the proud medal’s ceremonies, athletes and guests were treated to a buffet of amazing and fun exhibits. There was a health area hosted by Healthy Athletes in which the athletes could get free health care from Doctors who donate their time and resources Many people with intellectual disabilities do not receive proper health care. Some do not even have the correct glasses prescription, some do not even have the correct shoe size. At the Healthy Athletes Village area, athletes received these services, and Stance, the official sock of the NBA, were handing out 1100 socks for each and every athlete. They are a proud sponsor of the Special Olympic Games, and let me tell you the socks were super, super cool.
As I walked around, I met a few athletes, younger than I am! It was outstanding to see how well they did at such a young age. One athlete who was only 13 years old was named Dominique. He was from the Westside and won a gold and a silver medal. The gold was for the 50-meter run, and the silver was for the long jump. He has been participating in the Special Olympics since he was eight years old, but this is his first Summer Games.
Then there was the Festival Area, featuring entertainment booths throughout the venue, including many games and crafts. This super fun zone was hosted by the sponsors of the the Southern California Special Olympics Summer games, including Target, Mattel (Barbie, Hot Wheels), Disney, TCW, Toyota, and title sponsors Albertsons and the Vons Foundation. I got to make my own button (thanks to TCW), dance to the Disney DJ with Mickey and Minnie, sit on a real police motorcycle thanks to Law Enforcement volunteers, shoot hoops, pose with Barbie, and the list of fun goes on and on. These sponsors really created a lot of joy and happiness for the athletes…and this reporter!
It was heart warming to see the happy athletes, proud parents, and cheering fans as they day went from light to dark. If the Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games are any indication of what is in store come July 25, I encourage you all to make it to the World Games! Being a part of the circle of awareness and inclusion is an amazing and touching experience.