By Sgt. Ryan HallockJune 18, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. (June 18, 2013) -- The athletes paraded through the Joint Base Lewis-McChord hangar, slapping hands left and right all the way to the front where the I Corps commander greeted them. Months of hard work, training, and determination brought them to where they all stand now: the opening ceremony of the 2013 Special Olympic summer games.
Michael U'Ren, the official athlete torchbearer, carried the Special Olympics "Flame of Hope" along with Detective Shirrell Veitenheimer from the Kennewick Police Department. Together they lit the cauldron, which has been a tradition that signifies the beginning of the games.
"Remember those days when your coaches were pushing you, where you had to do one more sprint, or swim one more lap, or try one more penalty kick?" asked Steve Kelley, grand marshal of the Summer Games. "You didn't know if you could do it and you didn't know if you could make it, but guess what? You made it! You're here!"
The fired-up crowd roared with cheers of jubilation and excitement in anticipation of the competition.
"We're very, very proud to be able to be here to host the Special Olympics," said Lt. Gen. Robert Brown on behalf of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, or JBLM, which has been the primary competition site of the summer games for more than four decades. "It goes back 40 years, and we hope it's 40 more and then beyond because we just love this great experience."
The beginning of the games kicked off bright and early June 1, at Cowan Stadium. What normally is filled with Soldiers conducting physical training was now the grounds for all those ready to reach for the gold.
Hundreds of athletes geared up, pinned their numbers to their chests, laced up their shoes and hit the track ready to compete and ultimately just have some fun in the sun.
Watching the determination, the joy, and the pride of the athletes when they accomplish what they set out to do is what's most memorable about the Summer Games, said David Gross, a coach with the JBLM Tigers.
"You can't come out here and observe and not be moved," he said.
Saturday was a day filled with sunshine and the competitors welcomed the lull in the rain. The track was dry and the officials aimed their starting pistols high into the sky. Runners took to their positions and raced off at the loud bang of the gun. Family members and coaches lined the crowd, cheering their athletes on.
"You can't stop," said Patrick Gardner, two-time Special Olympics competitor out of Bremerton, Wash. "Your body wants to keep moving, so you just keep going and going."
Athletes competed in many track-and-field events throughout the weekend, including shot put, hurdles, 100-meter dash, and long jump. Some events are not as well known, and are unique to the Special Olympics, such as the non-motorized and motorized wheelchair race, softball throw, and assisted walk.
"This is what sports are all about," said Kelley. "I'm convinced this is what sports were meant to be. Athletes testing themselves, learning about themselves, and competing with and against their peers."
The 2013 Summer Games brought not only the JBLM community together, it brought people from all over the state of Washington together. Police departments, fire departments, Soldiers, Airmen; everyone banded together to make this event possible.
When the last races were finished and the last medals handed out, the athletes were left with the Special Olympics motto.
"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt."