'Incredible inspiration' at Kadena Special Olympics
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Thunderous applause filled the air when hundreds of volunteers and spectators formed a human pathway to greet and cheer on arriving athletes for the 17th annual Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 5 at the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex.
Nearly 1,300 athletes and artists, along with more than 1,600 volunteers, participated in the games as family, friends and other supporters cheered them on. The event offers an opportunity for Team Kadena members to interact with local community neighbors and show support during a day full of competitive sports and festivities.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein attended the games and had the opportunity to meet and mingle with competitors, their families and Airmen.
"It is an honor to be part of the Kadena Special Olympics," he said. "This event showcases the partnership between local communities and the base, but today was about the athletes, and what an incredible inspiration they are to all of us”
The games officially began with an opening ceremony during which Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, the 18th Wing commander, Kiichiro Jahana, the director general of the Okinawa Prefectural Government Executive Office of the Governor, and Joel Ehrendreich, United States Consul General, Naha, shared words of encouragement to the athletes.
During the ceremony, Goldfein led the crowd in taking the athlete's oath, a tradition repeated by Greek warriors before going into the chaos of battle, with the common goal to compete with their best efforts and push themselves to new heights.
“Since the first time we hosted these games in 2000, they have highlighted inspiring acts of kindness, courage and team spirit from the athletes, family members and volunteers across the island,” Cornish said. He went on to thank the competitors and all the volunteers and family members who made the day a success.
Each competitor was paired with an athlete's buddy for the day, a volunteer who was designated to watch over and cheer the player throughout the various sporting activities.
Other volunteers helped in a variety of duties including translation, score keeping, medal presentations, logistical and medical support, and food preparation and distribution.
Athletes and artists had the opportunity to showcase their talents through a myriad of sporting events and art displays. Emotions were high and motivation was in no short supply at every finish line, goal post, dugout and court.
“It was perfect timing to come to Kadena during the Special Olympics,” Goldfein said. “To be here and see the effort the entire community put into coming together for something like this is so special.”