This is it - what over 1100 athletes having what I call,
â€śspecial giftsâ€ť have been waiting for, and training for all year: The Special
Olympics Southern California Fall Games.
The Fall Games were held at three different venues - Fountain Valley,
Huntington Beach, & Irvine with athletes competing in six sports: bowling,
floor hockey, soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball, with an expected attendance
of more than 4000 athletes, coaches, volunteers, and spectators over the course
of the two-day event. As a photojournalist
who desires to cover it all, I had to reluctantly select only one venue: Fountain
Valley Recreation Center and Sports Park where the soccer and tennis events
would be held.
The morning met me with a beautiful sky, a nice cool breeze,
and the excited buzz of activity of all those present in preparation of the dayâ€™s
events. As I strolled about the grounds
prior to the opening ceremonies soaking in all the sights and sounds, I noticed
there was no shortage of smiles and infectious giggles from the abundant athletes. Nestled among the grounds, was a family
pavilion tent that provided an area where families could meet other families and
learn about Special Olympics programs.
There was also a festival tent where attendees could participate in non-competition
activities and featured entertainment, sponsored - run booths with interactive
games, arts and crafts, and community groups ---this was truly a family event.
A few minutes before the opening ceremonies, I strategically
positioned myself with the hopes of visually capturing the essence of unity and
partnership, which were just a few of the attributes of the Special Olympics I
had the privilege of witnessing on prior occasions. During the opening ceremonies, one of the
speakers was Rafer Johnson, the founder of the Southern California Special
Olympics and for whom I had the honor and privilege of first meeting at the
Special Olympics World Games last July; the words he spoke inspired us all. The ceremony concluded with carrying of the Special
Olympics torch by Captain Hartmann of
the Ventura County Sheriffâ€™s Department and Special Olympics Southern
California athlete Jennifer Bleidistel from Torrance; Captain Hartmannâ€™s
lighting of the cauldron symbolically marked the beginning of the Fall Games.
As I made my way towards
the soccer field, my assistant Christina LaScala and I came across internationally
known Brazilian actor Vinicius Machado, who is best known for playing Faymen
Phorchin on the teen sitcom â€śNedâ€™s Declassified School Survival Guideâ€ť and who recently
played character Tony Chessani on HBO's True Detective. I found Vinicius to be very personable and
gracious when I asked him for a few minutes of his time for an interview. As we spoke, Vinicius expressed to me his
desire to be a part of the Special Olympics and to use his positon in life, â€śâ€¦to
be able to give back and to serveâ€¦and to be a part of something special as the
Special Olympics.â€ť With a hint of
controlled excitement, Vinicius told me he planned on spending the day
attending as many of the events as he could and â€śserveâ€ť in whatever capacity he
could. I left Viniciusâ€™ presence with a
feeling of gratitude that I was able to meet such a man as this who sincerely wanted
to â€śgive back.â€ť (To listen to the full interview, click on the following: http://goo.gl/GKG8s4)
I arrived at the soccer
field and met with Eileen Lagore, the coach of the Riverside soccer team, â€śBlue
Titansâ€ť - the team I was going to cover for the soccer competition. Eileen told me she has been a Special Olympics
soccer coach for two years and this year has been especially exciting for her and
the team as they have been on a winning streak.
Eileen said she became involved with the Special Olympics many years ago
as a result of her special needs son and since then, has coached swimming,
track, Bocce, and now currently soccer.
I asked about Eileen how she felt when she watched her athletes
participate in the Special Olympics.
With obvious joy in her voice, Eileen expressed to me how excited she became
when she watched her athletes get excited at being â€śincludedâ€ť and over
something as simple as kicking the ball.
Eileen explained to me that participating in the Special Olympic events
gave the athletes a sense of accomplishment and â€śbelongingâ€ť, something they had
difficulty with elsewhere because of their special needs. When I finished speaking with Eileen, I had
no doubt this was one special lady who not only was dedicated to,
but truly loved and believed in the cause and mission of the Special Olympics.
As I watched the
Blue Titans first compete against the Santa Barbara team then the Pico Rivera
team, I noticed they played with such vigor and enthusiasm as anyone would find
with any mainstream athletic team. Mixed
among the kicks, blocks, dives, and sprints down the field, the athletes
displayed such teamwork that anyone watching would find it difficult to not be
inspired. But in spite of the
competitive spirit among the athletes, there were plenty of joyful smiles,
giggles, and laughter that made the experience of witnessing such an event something
that would linger within my heart, soul, and mind for days to come, and I am confident
I am not alone in this.
Before I reluctantly
left the soccer field, I met with Blue Titans â€śforwardâ€ť Shahid Ginwala to compliment him on his adept playing on the field that was instrumental in leading his team to victory. Shahid humbly explained to me this was his first year competing in the Special Olympics, during which time he won the â€śGoldâ€ť at the 100 meter, 200 meter, & 1500 meter race in the Special Olympics Track & Field. Shahid also told me he has only been playing soccer for three months, which one could not tell by the superior level of skill he played on the field. Within Shahid, I suspect laid an athelte destined for greatness.
I finished the day
by watching tennis player athlete Elsa Fryer, a.k.a. â€śMiss Smilesâ€ť, as she competitively
volleyed the ball back and forth with her opponent in what I noticed was both in
an earnest and joyful manner. On several
occasions, Elsa would pause in her game play to make a cheer of triumph and at
one point, she momentarily stood motionless in an obvious intentional comical pose
as to solicit laughter for those in attendance - it workedâ€¦and it was
infectious; Elsa truly lived up to her nickname.
Watching Elsa reminded me one of the many
reasons I desired to cover the Special Olympics as a photojournalist - to witness
the athletes displaying their exuberant joy and pride of being included and of
being part of something so special!
concluded the end of the Special Olympics Southern California Games for
2015. But if what I witnessed,
experienced, and shared during the 2015 games is a preview of what is to come
in 2016, there is little to nothing that will keep me away!
To view more images of the Special Olympics Southern California 2015 Fall Games at this venue, click here: http://www.freddiebphotography.com/p689827690