Starting weeks before the Opening Ceremony a Torch Run took place throughout the entire island to excite the residents of Puerto Rico to welcome the many athletes from around the world. Champion by San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, who participated every day, the Torch Run lit the way to what promised to be a week of inspiration.
Opening Ceremonies were televised live before a packed stadium of “fans” for a 3-hour celebration which feature renowned performers of Puerto Rico, a moving speech by Chairman of Special Olympics Tim Shriver and a rising address by Global Messenger Ariel Ary from Costa Rica. The Fans cheered non-stop from Parade of Athletes through the emotional lighting of the cauldron. Representatives from all municipalities in which the Flame of Hope visited during the Torch Run where there to help declare the Games open.
Competition in 11 sports were held throughout the week and were amazingly executed in spectacular venues. On the last day of competition, 28 athletes from 6 nations braved heavy rain and strong winds to compete in the first -ever triathlon event --- a grueling test of strength and endurance that challenged our athletes in a combined swimming, cycling and running event. This culminating event of the Games bore witness to the limitless opportunities awaiting persons with intellectual disabilities who join our movement. The triathlon event was made possible by the vision of Special Olympics athletes and employee Kester Edwards who helped establish and organize the event.
Football (soccer) was the sport of focus for the Games. CONMEBOL President Dr. Nicolas Leoz announced that Paraguay is ready to host the next Special Olympics COPA AMERICA Football Tournament, that CONMEBOL will help to bring CONCACAF on board with our Global Football initiative and that he will be encouraging all Football Federations to support Special Olympics football. Football Ambassadors Teofilo Cubillas, Alex Aguinaga and Enrique Borja were all present and Football Directors from 9 Caribbean nations were trained and certified by FIFA and Special Olympics officials, as part of the Global Football initiative.
The athletes became Healthy Athletes after participating in the screening program throughout the week. Health Athletes Clinical Directors from Puerto Rico and 8 other Latin American Programs were trained during the HA screenings, giving a boost to the HA initiative across the region. Lions International President Al Brandel agreed to work with Special Olympics Puerto Rico and Special Olympics Brasil on establishing Special Olympics Lions Clubs as a model for the rest of the region.
More than 800 hundred high school students took the pledge to “Spread the Word to End the Word” during the Youth Rally that was held during the Games and the Secretary of Education declared her commitment to take this message to all schools throughout Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico, specifically the city of San Juan, was so moved by hosting these Games that during Closing Ceremonies, Mayor Santini announced that he is renaming one of San Juan’s main avenues “Special Olympics Boulevard” and unveiled his plans to build a regional sports training center for Special Olympics as a tribute to Mrs. Shriver and the movement.
Please read the Special Olympics Latin American Blog