Special Olympics World Games – Acceptance, Inclusion and Bravery

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“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Special Olympic Motto.

One person can truly make an extraordinary impact in the world. When in June 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a day camp (Camp Shriver) for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Potomac, Maryland, concerned that children with intellectual disabilities had no place to play, she couldn’t have imagined that her idea would become one of the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world. Her sister, Rosemary was also an inspiration, but Mrs. Shriver had a broad goal to serve a community often misunderstood and underrated.

We’ve attended some of the Special Olympics World Games events at USC, UCLA in Los Angeles and today at the Balboa/Encino Park, watched the soccer match between Greece (Hellenic Republic) and France. The strapping Greek athletes had a very impatient goalkeeper, one who ran out of his post and scored the first goal! They won 5-3 against France.
At the end of the game, one of the athletes was so happy to see a lady waving their countries’ flag and exclaiming “Opa!” He ran to our fan section, with a heart sign just for her. Sincere, simple and beautiful.

I was particularly proud of our Nigerian soccer players who won their match against Germany by 1-0. They gathered to say a short prayer after the match and enjoyed a victory lap like pros.  At every event, these players showed deep appreciation for the fans by waving, bowing to the crowds and we cheered them on, inspired by such display of courage, hard-work and team spirit.

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About Special Olympics  and  the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015 (LA2015)

Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries, using the power of sport to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people.
This year with 6,500 athletes and 2,000 coaches representing 165 countries, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators, the 2015 Special Olympics World Games – is hosted in Los Angeles from July 25-August 2, 2015 (Check out many inspiring stories and journeys @  LA2015 Website)

This was such an inspiring  week and come Sunday, these valiant and special athletes with intellectual and sometimes physical disabilities will return home as champions, having accomplished goals that some able-bodied people have not.
When they thrive, we all thrive. Become a fan, find a Special Olympics Center in your corner of the world and volunteer, support and give to keep the year-long training camps and games alive. Congratulations to ALL our champions. Onward!

Credits: Images – Flicker and LA2015.org

Celebrating Talent and “Sparks” of the Divine with Disabilities

Credit: Pixabay Commons

Credit: Pixabay Commons

In Honor of the Special Needs Community and to Evelynn, a very special Swainson’s Lorikeet.

For the past 11 years,  the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA has hosted the Festival of Human Abilities, celebrating the creative and inspiring spirit of people with disabilities.

This weekend, we showed up to cheer and enjoy amazing talented people with various disabilities like Dat Nguyen, a world music guitarist who is blind, Kodi Lee, a singer who has autism and is blind. Children fawned over the service dogs from Canine Companions for Independence.

Others gifted participants displayed skills as adaptive SCUBA divers, Hip Hop wheelchair dancers, painters with wheelchair wheels and we loved the exquisite dance performances by Bethune Infinite Dreams and the stirring rendition of You Raised Me Up  by Josh Groban by Love in Motion Choir in sign language, storytelling, crafts, visual artists from the local community, Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center (awarded the Aquariums’ Glen McIntyre Heritage Award for their dedication) and so much more!

We explored sea life exhibits,  amazing creatures like Freshwater Sawfish, floating Sea Otters (who keep a stone on their bellies and use it as a tool to smash open shellfish for lunch), breathtaking coral reefs and anemones, especially the Fragile Pink Urchin that is too pretty to someday die! I wondered how someone as intelligent as Woody Allen could call God an under-achiever when all around us, creation reminds us of His manifold wisdom.

Rainbow_lorikeet

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Then a lone bird, Evelynn with a plumage as bright as an in-your-face rainbow, an artist’s dream palette caught my eye. She perched on the branch of a shrub away from the non-stop hustle of the aquariums’ free-flight aviary.  I say “hustle” because if you’ve never been propositioned by a bird,  you’ll want to check out this slick crew at the aquarium.

The popular birds are Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) a species of Australasian parrot found in Australia.  According to the staff, the parrots all show different personality traits – Shadow likes to play with guests and finger wrestle. Tulip is a popular gal because she loves to hang out with the bird keepers. Piper loves to vocalize and play with his food bowls.

Most of the birds can talk and say words such as thank you, hello, come ‘ere, watcha doin’, hi, and call out their names. Some can even blow kisses, the slickest of them can unbutton and re-button your shirt! Why? Because you typically walk into the aviary with a cup of nectar and they’ve gotta have some!

Back to Evelynn, I was curious – why she was out there? The staff explained that she was born with defective eye sight either due to genetics or because her mother didn’t incubate her egg long enough. That means she sees things as blurry shadows, bumps into moving objects and as a result gets very nervous and anxious when there’s a crowd. As we were talking , Evelynn puffed and fluffed her deep blue with a greenish-yellow nuchal collar and deep green back feathers, getting comfortable on her tiny perch, chirping away and showing off to our little group.

park-28853_640

Credit: Pixabay Commons

I was so moved – a special needs bird displayed at a festival celebrating the ‘sparks’ of the divine. We see people with disabilities and special needs all around us but they are typically misunderstood, misjudged and treated without empathy. If we realize that the core issues they face can be traced to unavoidable circumstances or innate, hereditary issues we would be kind.  Inclusion and consideration, not pity goes a long way to make them feel valued.

I am thankful for the people, families, organizations and nations that provide care, hope, support, advocate and protect the rights of people with disabilities. We are all our brothers’ keepers. By the way, wouldn’t it be amazing if we asked to see the special needs animals at our zoos and theme parks? I am personally going to start doing that.

If you are ever at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, ask for Evelynn the special bird who is blind and sees shadows and play peek-a-boo with her. It’s her favorite game, but shh…don’t tell her its therapy.

Update: I got some amazing news…I asked about her and the very nice people at the Aquarium confirmed her name and I learnt she has a brother, Kyle! How great is that?  So now you have to look out for Evelynn & Kyle.

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