Photo Credits: Freddie B. Photographyâ„˘
A day to be remembered...the Opening Ceremonies of the Special Olympic World Games Austria 2017. Held at the Planai Stadium in the Austria city of Schladming on March 18th, the day began with a drizzle that evolved into a light rain accompanying most of the ceremonies. But this did not seem to stave off the masses from coming to witness such a spectacular event nor did it appear to dampen the spirits and outwardly buzz of excitement of the participating athletes. I know for me, in spite of my fruitless efforts to keep my camera dry in the media pit area, was almost ignorant of the rain's presence due to being caught up in the many soul-touching moments.
The opening ceremonies marks the official start of the Special Olympic World Winter Games Austria 2017 and was filled with grandier, pagentry, and a visual feast for the eyes. The opening ceremonies was braodcast live on ABC/ESPN to to 190 countries and was attended by a host of mega-stars and prominent figures from around the world.
Some of the most memorable moments for me was when a dancer with intellectual disabilities named Maria Naber performed a stirring dance with a magical light creature named Dundu dolls and other theatrical performers; Maria's performance was so entrancing, I had to repeatedly remind myself to focus back on capturing these moments with my camera for this is what I came here for: sharing moments such as these in the best way I know how. There were musical performances by European megastar Helene Fischer and by two-time Grammy winner Jason Mraz who performed with America's Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal.
The highlight of the evening was the Parade of Athletes. Over 2600 athletes from 105 countries from around the world streamed into the stadium accompanied by such prominent figures, including singer/songwriter Jason Mraz, the president of ESPN Inc. and co-chairman Disney Media Networks John Skipper, the Chairman of Special Olympics International Dr. Timothy Shriver, the CEO of Special Olympics International and Mary Davis, and members of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, including ice-skating legend Michelle Kwan, gold medalists NBA legend Sam Perkins and Olympic swimmer Donna De Varona, Vice Chairman Angelo Moratti, and Princess Charlene of Monaco.
Watching these athletes pour into the stadium, I found myself nearly overcome with emotion for these athletes, who most assuredly will forever remember this experience. They say a picture tells a thousand words. I am here to tell you in cases such as these, this is an undeniable fact because there are no amount of words I could pull out of my thoughts and put to paper that can fully described the looks of joy and pride on the faces of the athletes or their infectious exuberance they openly displayed. These athletes, who for most of them, have had struggles and challengers throughout their lives most of us do not have. These athletes, as I said it time and time again are some of the most joyous and happy-go-lucky people I've ever met! This is their time...their spotlight!
The evening "moved" me, inspired me, entertained me and I found myself not wanting it to end like a child filled with wonder and awe doesn't want his favorite holiday to end. But the eveing did when when Austrian President Heinz Fischer announced the official start of the games immediately after the Olympic cauldron was lit by a Special Olympics athlete. Let the games begin!