JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Families, volunteers and service members welcomed more than 2,800 athletes May 29 at the opening ceremony of the 2015 Washington State Special Olympics Summer Games at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Over the course of two days, the athletes will compete for the gold in team and individual events.
"We are honored to be able to support these Olympic Games," said Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, commanding general of I Corps and the grand marshal of the 2015 summer games. "We have been doing this for more than 40 years and hopefully we can continue to do it for 40 more years."
The Special Olympics are modeled after the Olympic Games, giving people with disabilities the opportunity to compete against their peers.
"The Special Olympics gives these athletes the chance to be tested as real champions," said Dan Wartelle, vice president of communications for the Washington Special Olympics. "It gives them the excitement of competition and allows them to grow as a person."
The Tigers, a team from JBLM, will compete in the swimming and track-and-field events.
"We helped prepare the athletes by practicing twice a week and working hard on different skills," said M. Genia Stewart, the head coach of the Tigers. "The athletes on our team all have a military connection and they push themselves to be the best they can be, just like their parents."
"I joined the JBLM Tigers to push myself to my limits," said athlete Alex Johnson. "I prepared for this weekend by running more to prepare for the 100-meter run."
Volunteers and local police officers welcomed the athletes as they walked down a hall of honor into the ceremony and took their seats to await the arrival of the Olympic torch.
Dino Rossi, chair of the board of directors of the Washington Special Olympics, addressed the athletes after the torch lighting: "Compete well and meet the challenge of completion with determination, enthusiasm and spirit,"
This weekend would not be possible without the support of countless volunteers and parents, many of whom work all year to bring these games to life.
"We had phenomenal volunteers helping us today," said Emily Samms, the opening ceremonies manager of the Washington Special Olympics. "From the partnership and support from the military to the T-Mobile Foundation volunteers, it has made this event the best I have seen."