By Staff Sgt. David Chapman, 5th MPADJune 6, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash.-- Banners waived and cheers were heard as fans and families from across the state swarmed to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to watch Special Olympians compete in the 2013 Summer Games, May 31-June 2.
Athletes competed in the three-day event and were challenged through events such as, swimming, soccer and track and field. Despite the competitive aspect, the Special Olympics is organized to celebrate the ability and the belief that everyone competes, everyone plays and sports have no boundaries.
For one Soldier, the Special Olympics has an important place in his life and he makes sure that the summer kicks-off with this event.
"I just love working with the kids," said Sgt. Jonathan Bonet, 47th Combat Surgical Hospital. "It was really rewarding last year, so I knew I would help out this year also. The humbleness of the competitors and the kindness they show each other makes me want to be nicer to people I run into."
In his second year volunteering, Bonet, originally from Puerto Rico, brought his wife and two kids to watch these athletes' sportsmanship and perseverance.
"It doesn't have to be the sports that encourage me. Just having them shoot a basketball attempt to get prizes and not get disappointed when they miss, does too," Bonet said. "They keep trying until they achieve what they want. That can really teach someone important life lessons."
It isn't only the Soldiers who get something out of the annual competition. However, many participants appreciate the opportunity to share this event with the military.
"We couldn't do this event without the Soldiers, and the athletes love having the Soldiers here," said Susan Greenwood, volunteer on the Games Management Team with the Special Olympics. "The track meet is the reason they come here but being around Soldiers is the icing on the cake. They do high-fives and take pictures. The grins on the athletes' faces from the interactions will melt the Soldiers' hearts."
Following the track and field events, Capt. James Comfort, company commander, A Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, and Capt. Michael Keasler, company commander, C Company, 1-23 Inf., had the privilege of presenting medals and ribbons to the athletes in a ceremony conducted in front of their families. The smiling faces and cheers of their families as they received their awards told a story of how motivation and determination can overcome personal battles.
"There are people out there with challenges a lot more difficult than anything we might face on a day-to-day basis," Comfort said. "Anytime a Soldier may think life is hard in the Army, they should take a step back and look at some of the challenges someone else may have."
Before Bonet could return to his role as a basketball retriever and cheerleader, he had an important piece of advice for all Soldiers interested in volunteering for the Special Olympics next year.
"I would tell other Soldiers to just go and try this out. It's incredibly rewarding to come, help and see their bright faces, and know that you may have made a difference in a person's life," said Bonet. "I tell my Soldiers all the time, no matter what it is, to volunteer in the community. Do what you can to help out others."