Haruko Shimano, an athlete participating in the the 13th annual Kadena Special Olympics. More photos can be found at the web link below.
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Thousands of volunteers, supporters and athletes and artists with special needs from all over Japan, came to Kadena's Risner Fitness Center, Nov. 17 to participate in or support the 13th annual Kadena Special Olympics.
"This is an opportunity for the two communities to meet in joint service to the athletes and build a brother and sister hood like the ancient Okinawa proverb that says 'once we meet we are brothers and sisters forever'," said Brig. Gen. Matt Molloy, 18th Wing commander.
The start of the events kicked off with an opening ceremony where the commander and other distinguished guests including a representative from the Okinawa Prefectural Government gave words of encouragement to the athletes.
One mother of a repeat athlete said even though this is her second time coming to Kadena Special Olympics, her son, Keni Maeshiro, is excited to participate in the events and even wakes up earlier than normal to get ready.
With the opening ceremony complete, the athletes were able to explore the field with their 'hugger' and compete in their respected events.
'Huggers' are service members from around the base who volunteered to help and encourage special-needs athletes both young and old from Okinawa and the United States throughout the event.
Even though it began to rain, the athletes kept high spirits and continued to compete in their various events such as, softball, hockey, basketball, and track and field.
Kadena Special Olympics began in 2000 with approximately 400 athletes and 600 volunteers as an 18th Wing community goodwill initiative to strengthen U.S. - Okinawa relationships. After 13 years, the event has more than tripled in size and participation and even caught the attention of Dave Lenox, vice president of leadership development and education for Special Olympics.
"(The KSO) is a really unique model," said Lenox, who traveled to Okinawa to check out the KSO in person. "It's community building at its core."
About Airman 1st Class Malia Jenkins: Kadena Air Base is the hub of airpower in the Pacific, and home to the Air Force's largest combat wing -- the 18th Wing -- and a variety of associate units. Together they form "Team Kadena" -- a world-class combat team ready to fight and win from the Keystone of the Pacific.
Nearly 18,000 Americans and more than 4,000 Japanese employees and contractors make up Team Kadena. The base's estimated economic impact upon Okinawa's economy is more than $700 million annually.