Friday, May 24

UCLA hosts California Special Olympics

By Kimberly MackesySummer Bruin Staff

Nearly 2,000 athletes from all corners of the state descended on
UCLA Friday, marking the start of the 26th annual California
Special Olympics Summer Games.

The Special Olympics program is designed to provide athletic
training and competition for mentally retarded children and adults.
Programmers said they strive to help the participants develop
confidence, personal qualities and abilities that will help them in
all areas of life.

"It¹s a wonderful opportunity for us to show the world that
people with mental retardation can contribute," said Dave Dill,
director of the Summer Games.

The Summer Games include eight events, among them track and
field, aquatics, gymnastics and tennis. Although California Special
Olympics holds several competitions each year ­ encompassing a
total of 20 sports ­ the Summer Games is the largest,
officials said. More than 26,000 athletes and 30,000 volunteers
throughout California take part in the games.

Special Olympics was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Since then, Special Olympics has grown to include over 140
countries. In 1969, the California branch of Special Olympics was
created. Rafer Johnson, an Olympic gold and silver medalist in the
decathlon, was a founding board member.

"This (competition) is the first time for a lot of the athletes
to be slapped on the back for something they’ve done or achieved,"
Johnson said. He added that he felt the Special Olympics experience
helps the athletes lead more successful lives.

Officials noted that many of the athletes return to the Special
Olympics year after year.

Wanda Jean Williams has been competing in Special Olympics for
over 12 years. As part of Athletes For Outreach, Williams helps
recruit sponsors and raise community awareness by speaking about
Special Olympics.

"I enjoy it because it gives me something to do. It makes me
forget about my problems," Williams said. "If I don’t win, it’s OK,
because if I don’t get a medal, I get a ribbon. I’m very happy to
be here."

The California Special Olympics Summer Games has been held at
UCLA for over 15 years. Officials said the tradition of holding the
Summer Games at UCLA has helped the Games immensely.

"UCLA is a tremendous facility. It helps us a lot to be able to
say that we’re at UCLA," said Richard Van Kirk, president and CEO
of California Special Olympics.

Various campus organizations have donated their time to help
raise funds for the Summer Games. ASUCLA and the UCLA Police
Department have contributed to the effort. The UCLA Medical Center
was the Games’ primary site for medical assistance, and doctors
also volunteered at the events.

The Anderson Graduate School of Management was one of the
largest on-campus groups to raise funds for the project, Van Kirk
said. Management students organized an "MBA Challenge for Charity,"
hoping to raise $75,000 for Special Olympics. The school held a
silent auction, a live auction and other fund-raising events.

"(AGSM has been) very helpful. Students like to do it ­ it
softens the image of the hard, driven businessperson who only cares
about money," Van Kirk said.

While officials maintain that Special Olympics changes the lives
of many of the athletes, they are quick to assert that the 2,500
volunteers take away just as much from the experience.

"(Volunteers are) just average, general citizens that are moved
by Special Olympics," Dill said. "Some of them come back year in
and year out … It¹s one of those things that you do
that¹s not for the money … It¹s special."

The volunteers themselves said the satisfaction on the athletes’
faces mirrored their own.

"The pleasure the kids have is just amazing. (Volunteering) has
been the most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had," said first-time
volunteer Carmen Arvisu.

Marvin Weitzenhoffer, president of Plantique, Inc., has been
organizing a "Plant-a-Tree" booth for several years. Children are
given small plastic pots and allowed to transplant their plant

"It¹s great when the kids come back two to three years
later and say ‘remember me?’ and tell me their plant is still
alive, or that it died and they want another one … the response
of the kids is so rewarding," Weitzenhoffer said.

The three-day event ended Sunday, as athletes and volunteers
took part in the closing ceremonies.

UCLA hosts California Special Olympics

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.