Kadena Special Olympics: Breaking down barriers

by Senior Airman Jessica H. Smith
18th Wing Public Affairs

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Despite the impeding rain, athletes, volunteers and spectators gathered at Kadena Air Base, Japan, to be a part of the 18th annual Kadena Special Olympics, Nov. 4, 2017.

The event, first established in 1999 was created by the commander at the time, to break down barriers and bring athletes, families and volunteers from all over Okinawa together as one team.

The KSO consists of athletes from 29 schools and 28 special-needs workshops as well as volunteers from both the American and Japanese communities on the island. The event has grown from a mere few hundred athletes to nearly 1,000 participating in this year’s competitions – exponentially increasing in size after almost two decades.

The event is made up of many different athletic competitions such as tennis, softball, basketball, soccer and multiple track runs – from a 100 meter dash all the way to a relay.

Before events begin the athletes are paired with a “buddy.” A buddy is a volunteer who helps and encourages the special-needs athletes while they participate in their many different competitions. Aside from the buddies, many volunteer to act as interpreters to aid in the language barrier.

While many are participating in and cheering on the games, others are putting on a show. Many groups come to perform their talents during KSO and provide entertainment to the athletes and spectators alike.

The KSO is the largest community outreach of the year in the Pacific theater, but what some may find more impressive than that is the environment created by the games – one of understanding and acceptance for community members with physical or intellectual disabilities.

This event inspires acts of kindness, courage and team spirit for all involved – fostering friendships and building memories between Okinawan and American neighbors, but most notably, provides an opportunity for all communities involved to stand together in support of people with special needs.

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