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The Spirit of the Special Olympics Arrives at USC

Priscilla Chu |
July 27, 2015 | 12:19 p.m. PDT

The Special Olympics Opening Ceremony (Robyn Beck/Getty Images)
The Special Olympics Opening Ceremony (Robyn Beck/Getty Images)

On Saturday, July 25th, the Opening Ceremony officially kicked off the 14th Special Olympics at USC’s Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. This is the first time in 16 years that the World Summer Games have been hosted in the United States.

The official event will run from July 25th to August 2nd, and 165 nations will be represented by 6,500 athletes. Athletes will participate in 25 Olympic sporting events citywide, and USC will be one of the locations where many of the sporting events will be held. The Opening Ceremony had exciting headlines such as First Lady Michelle Obama and Stevie Wonder. In a frenzy of excitement, it was clear to see: The spirit of the Games has officially descended upon Trojan territory.

USC students had the opportunity to witness this once in a lifetime experience — right across the street from the University Park campus. Rising Junior Bobby Nahill — majoring in Broadcast Journalism — volunteered for the Opening Ceremony.

“Last night was an evening filled with love, inspiration, and inclusiveness,” he said.

“My favorite part of the night during the ceremonies was being in charge of moving all of the athletes out of the holding arena and into the Coliseum. I got so rowdy with all of the teams and seeing the excitement on all of their faces was so touching,” Nahill explained excitedly. “Not to mention the fact that I technically gave high fives to the entire world, it was incredible.”

The Special Olympics have always been a special and spectacular event for its athletes and its spectators. There were thousands in the stands, and millions watching at home who witnessed First Lady Michelle Obama giving a live speech, a video message from President Barack Obama — from his trip to Kenya — a live performance by Stevie Wonder and athletes like Michael Phelps and Michelle Kwan carrying the Special Olympics flag.

Said the First Lady: “My husband and I, we are so proud of you, so incredible proud of you, and we love you all from the bottom of our hearts … These games are a perfect reflection of unity. They show us that we are all in this together.”

Once she officially announced the beginning of this grand, nine-day event, the arena erupted with cheers and fireworks lit up the sky. The Special Olympics are underway.

The university will play an substantial role in hosting the event, offering up many of its facilities for use and competition.

USC’s Galen Center will host Basketball, the Loker Stadium/Cromwell Field will hold track and field events, and the Uytengsu Aquatics Center will host a variety of aquatic sporting events. Other venues around Los Angeles include UCLA’s Drake Stadium for Soccer, UCLA’s John Wooden Center for Gymnastics and Griffith Park for Equestrian events.

This is not the first time that the Special Olympics have reached out to USC for facilities support. In 2014, USC also hosted the 45th Annual Special Olympics Summer Games Invitational.

Michael Munson, Associate Director of Facilities at USC, has worked with the Special Olympics Committee for both 2014 and 2015 games. The university is expecting thousands of fans, dignitaries, and athletes — one of Munson’s responsibilities is to control the crowd flow in the athletics department.

“I am the facility manager overseeing the aquatics center. We’ll be hosting the swimming events, and we also have auxiliary events in the Lyon Center like awards ceremonies and meetings.”

Although planning for large crowds can require extensive logistical planning, Munson was grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to a great cause. The Games are an infectious event that can inspire and connect individuals.

Munson continued, “[The Special Olympics] are one of those programs that you feel really good about helping out. The smiles that are on people’s faces — the athletes, the volunteers, the fans, are unforgettable. And also how great it is to see that the university coming together for this event “

Many USC students have grasped this opportunity to volunteer. Nahill’s duties are within the production department, and he has dedicated time for the events because he says it provides a space where deserving athletes can shine and showcase their accomplishments.

“The Special Olympics to me is far more than just an event that showcases the mental and physical strengths of athletes with disabilities,” he elaborated. “This event in particular shines a light on these individuals which I believe can change the way our society views those with disabilities, in that they are no different and shouldn’t be treated any differently than those individuals without.”

“I believe that with the viewership and media coverage of this event, we as a society can break ground for how others perceive those with disabilities, hopefully disproving certain societal “norms” we have regarding individuals with disabilities.”

Nahill represents the many volunteers, and why they chose to dedicate their time and effort to the Games. The Games represent international unity and spirit and allow people to meet athletes with awe-inspiring stories. USC has played a major part in this history by hosting athletes, events and having employees and students working closely with the Special Olympics Committee. As the athletes are deservedly honored for their efforts, those involved are honored in a different way.

“I am so honored to be at a university that prides itself in working with such an amazing organization. USC has such a strong presence in Los Angeles, and playing such an integral roll in a major metropolitan area, I believe that this will really help bring the Los Angeles community together in support of the World Games.”



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