Mary Adamski View from
the Pew

Mary Adamski

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Special effort

Thirteen Hawaii athletes are
on the U.S. team at the
Special Olympics World Games

DUBLIN, IRELAND || A crowd of more than 80,000 people, hands raised in jubilation, roared their affirmation of the words from the speaker at the podium.


The gathering gave "telling testimony to the indestructibility of the human spirit and of our capacity to overcome hardships and obstacles," said the man famed for his own conquest of obstacles.

The opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games in Ireland had the feeling of a revival meeting to end all mega-religious spectaculars. Though prayer wasn't part of it -- at least not publicly -- the joyful June 21 event was definitely a religious experience for me and the other people in the bleachers.

"You remind us of the potential for greatness that is alive in every one of us," Nelson Mandela told 7,000 athletes from 166 countries.

"You inspire us to know that all obstacles to human achievement and progress are surmountable. Your achievements remind us of the potential that resides in every one of us. May the world learn from your example," said the Nobel Peace laureate and former president of South Africa.

Most of Hawaii's athletes gathered for a picture at Maynooth College, where the team stayed during the games in Ireland.

Mandela and Irish President Mary MacAleese were the brightest of an array of stars who praised, serenaded and applauded the athletes. There were musicians Jon Bon Jovi, Samantha Mumba, Ronan Tynan, the band U2, the Riverdance troupe, sports legend Muhammed Ali, movie idols Colin Farrell and Pierce Brosnan, royalty Prince Ra'ad Zeid of Jordan, Grand Duchess Maria-Therese of Luxembourg, Princess Astrid Lorenz of Belgium and Poland's first lady Jolanta Kwasniewska.

The crowd of family and fans was moved by the tributes lavished on the participants of the largest sports event planned for the planet this year.

But what stirred the soul was the athletes' smiling, dancing and embracing as they expressed delight at the outpouring of love, and their poignant vulnerability.

In a world that idolizes the fastest, the fittest, the richest, those with the most, here we were on our feet for people who have made the most of having and being less. The politically correct expression prominent in the Irish newspapers was "learning disabled."

Jolyn Imoto, 18, of Honolulu, won a bronze medal in the 4x100-meter relay run and a silver in the 200-meter run.

Many also had physical impairments. Swimmer Jody Ann Cambra, of Maui, who got a gold medal for shaving two minutes off her own best time in the 25-meter freestyle swim, drew the attention of the crowds at the week of competitive events as she was transported in a wheelchair because of impaired vision. A teammate, Sean Hively, of Waimanalo, a kidney transplant recipient, completed the half marathon.

"Not in any way is this about finding out who is fastest or strongest," said Dan Epstein, vice president of Special Olympics Hawaii.

He was one of four coaches who accompanied Hawaii's 13 athletes, members of the 800-strong Team USA.

"Each of our Hawaii athletes achieved their own personal bests in Dublin," said Epstein.

"That's a perfect example of what it is all about: the opportunity to focus and train with a strong goal, a chance to discover what each can achieve."

"To walk into Croke Park with 70,000 people cheering -- and this is a segment of the population which gets no recognition, or negative recognition ... it was phenomenal," Epstein said.

It was a spiritual event for more than 30,000 Irish people who worked as volunteers to support and shepherd the visitors.

Peter Hickman, of Hilo, won a bronze medal in the 800-meter race.

Towns all over the map sported welcoming signs and the flags of nations great and small, each hosted by a different municipality. These missionaries of global friendship turned the World Games anthem "May We Never Have to Say Goodbye" into a glory and praise hymn that rocked dozens of competition events all week.

The Catholic bishops of Ireland reminded their congregations that accepting and helping people with special needs is indeed a religious experience.

In a letter distributed in churches and timed to the World Games, the bishops said:

"God knows all of us personally. The beauty and wonder of God is revealed in every human person. Each person is created by God to fulfill a unique mission. His/her own special gifts are an irreplaceable part of the richness of God's image reflected in the human race.

"The games are a magnificent symbol of what may be achieved when we focus on the abilities and skills of people rather than on their disabilities."

Runners Patricia Carter, of Hilo, and Brad Edayan, of Honolulu, show their medals.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Religion Calendar

Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
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