This is a guest post from Apolo Ohno:
I have had the opportunity to compete against and stand beside some inspiring athletes through my career, but you have not seen inspiration and joy in its purest form until you have witnessed a Special Olympics athlete competing.
A couple weeks ago, I had the remarkable opportunity to travel to China and Japan on behalf of Special Olympics. This was a very personal trip for me because my father and greatest supporter traveled with me, spending time in Japan, where he is from, and where my grandmother still lives. And then in China I had the chance to see my former coach, the great, Li Yan! I wanted to share some reflections on all I witnessed and experienced.
We first traveled to Japan, where I was moved by how the Special Olympics family has come together following the tragic Fukushima earthquake. One of the highlights of my time there was getting back on the ice with the incredible Special Olympics athletes and hosting a skate clinic for Special Olympics Nippon Fukushima athletes and local Fukushima school children. There, I met Hiroyuki Endo and Susumu Endo, Special Olympics athletes from Fukushima, who were competing in the SO Nippon Winter Games. We worked together on skate skills and short track starting techniques.
Attending the Special Olympics Nippon Winter Games was my first short track competition since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and I was thrilled to cheer on the athletes of Japan. I was humbled to meet Special Olympics athlete from Fukuoka, Japan, Jun Murakami, who is a really fast skater with excellent technique and is coached by his brother Ryo. They were quite the duo! After meeting these athletes, I proudly joined in at the awards ceremony and cheered Banzai* for Jun, Hiroyuku and Susumu! (*Note: Banzai is a Japanese cheer that translates as “Long life!” or “Hurrah!” It is usually repeated three times to express enthusiasm or celebrate a victory.)
Special Olympics athletes strive to be better than they were yesterday, a philosophy, I believe, we should all live by every day. The athletes I’ve met through my journey with Special Olympics demonstrate the determination, sacrifice, and effort it takes to be the best you can be and to accomplish the goal of being better than you were yesterday.
Another incredible faucet of Special Olympics is that amidst all the turmoil in the world, so many people are willing to volunteer their time and follow in the footsteps of the passionate Eunice Kennedy Shriver. And like her, they are volunteering, donating, and supporting because they believe in the power of unification. That’s the beauty of what Special Olympics does, it benefits all involved: athletes, volunteers, supporters, witnesses.
After witnessing the power of Special Olympics, I want the whole world to know about it. I want them to know how they can get involved as coaches, volunteers, supporters, and advocates of inclusion but I also want people with intellectual disabilities to know about the opportunity of Special Olympics. China has more than one million Special Olympics athletes, but I want to help this number grow and for it to grow across the globe.
What I have always admired about China is their culture of “dreaming big.” At the speed skating clinic I hosted in Jilin City there was a banner that read “Embrace Special Olympics, Fly Your Hope and Share Your Happiness.” I would like to ask each of you – athlete, parent, volunteer, supporter, donor – to fly your hope to all you encounter for a world of inclusion, unity, and dignity for all and to do your part in sharing the work and opportunity that is Special Olympics. Join with me in sharing your happiness!
Check out some of the media coverage from my trip:
Interview from US Embassy in Beijing: http://video.sina.com.cn/p/sports/o/v/2012-02-13/194061664751.html
CCTV News: http://english.cntv.cn/program/sportsscene/20120214/117441.shtml
China Daily: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/sunday/2012-02/19/content_14640377.htm
Global Times: http://www.globaltimes.cn/NEWS/tabid/99/ID/697389/Apolo-Ohno-speeds-to-promote-Special-Olympics.aspx
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I, too took this journey, thirty-eight years ago. I was sitting in a graduate class at Wagner College in Staten Island in 1974. One of my fellow students, who was a special education teacher, asked me, if I would like to volunteer for the special olympics that Saturday. I said sure. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have been volunteering for Special Olympics, since 1974. Today, I am the Head Basketball Coach for Staten Island Special Olympics. I have been an international coach at two world games. 1979 in Brockport, New York and 1995 in New Haven, Connecticut. I have coached hundreds of special olympics athletes over the years in different sports areas. I cannot describe the feelings that one gets from watching the look on a special olympian’s face, when he or she get the ball in the basket or finish a race or throw a softball. It is awe inspiring! I have also organized my special olympics athletes to be involved in our local and city wide communities. We have a team “Friends Who Care”, who walk and raise funds for Breast Cancer, Aids and The American Cancer Society’s, Relay for Life, every year.
Ten years ago, I started the Unified Memorial Weekend Games, bringing special education and general education students together on Staten Island, to play basketball and jump double-dutch. The only such program in Staten Island, New York. Today, not only do we have the Unified Memorial Weekend Games but we have a five week Unified Annual Allstar “5 on 5” Basketball Summer League in Levy Park in Staten Island for special education and general education students, ages 8-18 years of age and a “unified division” for our Older special olympics athletes, who partner up with community players. All of our programs are run by volunteers and are free to the community. This is what happens, when you get involved with special olympics. It is a lifetime commitment and a gift that keeps on giving.
Coach Helen S. Settles
When I do something for these special athletes I remember one thing that the ones that you do not see out there competing they are the ones that have faced one of two things they tragically died from their illness or their illness has become so bad that they no longer can compete. The ones that no longer can compete now sit and watch and their desire is still there and I do what I do for them.
I have always like Apolo Ohno, this just takes it to a higher level. Apolo thank you for taking time for our children, they are truly worth it and they give more to us then we can even give to them.
Very inspiring!!! Apolo Anton Ohno represent is so well, being the Ambassador for Special Olympics, no one can do it better except him.
What a wonderful article. Kudos to Apollo for bring awareness to this great organization. And to the Special Olympians you are all an inspiration. Well done!!
Big kudos to Apolo and everyone that is involved with Special Olympics. You are all very special people with very big hearts. Thank you for your time.