JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Spectators applauded approximately 2,800 athletes as the "Flame of Hope" was carried onto McChord Field's Heritage Hill symbolizing the start of the 2015 Special Olympics Washington Summer Games at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, May 29-31.
The "Flame of Hope" represented all the athletes as they competed in swimming cycling, track and field, soccer and powerlifting over the following two days.
"The flame signifies the hope of all the athletes to be tested like champions," said Dan Wartelle, vice president Communications and Development, SOWA. "It is represented in all the athletes, coaches and volunteers throughout the event. The flame burns in all of us to continue."
The mission of SOWA offers children and adults with intellectual disabilities with continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and have fun during year-round sports training and athletic competition.
The athletes also had the opportunity to receive free dental, vision, hearing and general health screenings by physicians and healthcare professionals through the Healthy Athlete program between competitions to further their physical health.
"We had more than 1,100 competitors get checked for proper fit of shoes and health screenings by healthcare professionals from the Children's Hospital and volunteers from around the area including Madigan Army Medical Center," said Wartelle.
The Special Olympics hosted its first competition in 1968 with 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada competing at Soldier Field in Chicago. Now the Special Olympics have grown to more than 1.7 million athletes worldwide in 150 countries.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord has hosted the Washington Special Olympics for the past 42 years. SOWA receives support from thousands of volunteers who serve as coaches, sports officials, committee members and on-site volunteers at competitions and fundraising events.
"We would not be able to do the event without the awesome support of JBLM and its service members," said Wartelle. "They provide all the facilities for the events like locations and housing for the athletes and the Soldiers help tremendously throughout the competition."
The volunteer support from JBLM and surrounding area allows athletes, both new and returning, to compete and enjoy the festivities in between events.
"It is awesome to come down here to compete," said Taryn Holmes, an athlete on the Kulsha Thunderbirds soccer team. "The volunteers and Soldiers are really nice and helpful."
This is Holmes' second year competing with her team. The skills they learned during training helped them work better as a team to take first place in their division.
"The games is about showing people there is hope to compete no matter who you are," said Holmes. "Don't be afraid to compete. Just have fun together."