It was near the end of a long day at the Katherine B. Loker Track & Field Staduim at USC, Los Angles, where I had been covering a variety of Special Olympic World Games LA 2015 athletic events since earlier in the day as a media photographer for Specialneeds.com. I had taken hundreds of photos of several different track events that day, and thousands during the previous week of a variety of different events at a variety of different venues; the games were almost over and I was exhausted. I started to pack up my gear as I was about to call it the day; I had so much work to do as a result of the day's coverage, when one fo the referees on the field whispered to me, "You might want to stick around for a special athlete competing soon."
It was the look he gave me and the way he spoke those words to me that made me eargerly heed his advice.
When I asked of him about the athlete, he said her name was Olivia Quigley and she had stage 4 breast cancer; she was also Autistic as I later learned. That in and of itself immediately and spontaneously flared up a sense of admiration within me for Olivia that she would be competing in the games with Stage 4 cancer. Then, the referee went on to add that Olivia had put her chemotherapy on hold to compete in the games...this compounded how I felt to utter inspiration and awe. As I stood on the track at that moment near the relay race starting line, I saw no other media persons nearby and realized I was the only that held out; everyone else had apparently left for the day to upload thier images taken and meet their journalistic deadlines...I felt blessed and priviledged to have been tipped off before I also quit for the day
I continued to photograph other athletes as they perservered and "pushed" themselves to thier limits to reach the finish line as the anticipation of Olivia's turn up buzzed inside of me. I found Olivia's name on the roster and noticed it was near the last race of the day but that would not deter me from what I knew would be an emotional witnessing of courage and determination unbound; how could it not be for someone who put their fight against cancer on hold to compete in the games. The time came. I watched as Olivia walked out onto the track just several hundred feet from me and I immediatelty swelled up with inspiration and teary-eyed emotion as this beautiful lady stood before me warming up for her run. I knew I had to capture images of this woman with the hopes they would reflect the sheer inspiration, courage, and strength she exuded to all those present. Olivia took her starting point as the starter for the United States Relay Team, and when the starting shot fired, I never saw such a powerhouse of a bursting start as from this athlete that swept by me like a Gazelle flying through the fields of Africa.
Olivia took the Gold in the 100 meter and 400-meter relay race that day and it was no surprise to me. I never had a chance to meet Olivia that day: to thank her for her courage and for the overwhelming inspiration she imparted upon me and I suspected upon everyone else that day. Since then, my thoughts routinely reflect back upon my experiences during the Special Olympic World Games in Los Angeles and when they do, Olivia is at the forefront of them and will forever be so. My thoughts again was brought back to Olivia this last Tuesday, November 8th, when I read an ESPN article that Olive had lost her two-year battle with breast cancer at the age of 24 - I felt a pang of grief and sadness but at the same time a sense of gratitude that I had the priveledge of crossing paths with this incredible woman in such an inspirational way. May her example of courage and perservance live within all of us who were blessed enough to have crossed paths with her, and may those who read this article be inspired by who she was and what she stood for in this time of need for love and compassion.
To watch inspiring interviews with Olivia, visit these links:
Photo credits: Freddie B. Photography™ (Copyright 2016)