“Let the Games begin!”
With just four short words, honorary games chairwoman Lana Voga brought the nearly 3,000 Special Olympics athletes at Hilton Coliseum to their feet and into an uproar as she declared the 2012 Summer Games open Thursday night.
A night full of performances, awards and the historic law enforcement torch run, it was clear to those in attendance that for many athletes, the Opening Ceremonies was their favorite part of the event.
“Most of our athletes compete year round, but this is the pinnacle,” said Mark Reed, president and CEO of Special Olympics Iowa. “Some of our athletes, that will be the first time they’ve ever experienced that. [For] some of them [it] might be their fifth or sixth time, but it never changes. It is the highlight of their year.”
The athletic events began Thursday morning prior to the Opening Ceremonies, that way all the athletes came into Thursday night’s event already excited.
Tabitha Darnell of Davenport, Iowa, was chosen to give the invocation and said later it was quite an honor.
“I loved it,” Darnell said. “It made me proud to be up there and actually get recognized. That’s actually one of my goals to get on stage and tell people how it is.”
Later on in the program, ISU football coach Paul Rhoads had some words of wisdom for the athletes and reiterated some messages he gives his football team. Even Iowa Hawkeye fans in attendance jumped to their feet to applaud Rhoads as he walked back to his seat.
One Special Olympics Iowa board member said having the Iowa State athletes and coaches in attendance has always been a success.
“It’s huge,” said Chick Herbert of the board of directors, before the event. “We had Craig Brackins one year, and everybody loved Craig, and they’re going to love coach Rhoads."
One thing Rhoads stressed was working hard but having fun, as well. Something else also stressed in the Special Olympics oath.
Four-time Special Olympian Alex Tevez read the oath on stage as the ceremonies were drawing to a close and his fellow competitors echoed his words.
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Alex and his family moved from Illinois nearly two years ago and have been active participants in Special Olympics Iowa ever since. Not only does Alex compete in the athletic events, but he also attended the Global Messenger workshop last year where he learned to give speeches about Special Olympics.
Alex’s father Guillermo said the sense of accomplishment it gives the athletes when they win or get a medal is huge. Alex is no exception, and when he scored his first soccer goal Thursday, his dad said his emotions spread throughout the team.
“It just changed his whole attitude, and it just brought a smile to the whole team, to everybody,” Guillermo said.
Whether win or lose, first or last, Thursday officially began an athletic competition unlike any other. The Special Olympics provide the athletes with the opportunity to compete in a fun atmosphere with their friends.
One coach said that is the most rewarding aspect.
“The most rewarding thing is seeing all the kids cheering on each other,” said Dee Sturgeon. “Today during bocce ball, some got fourth, some got second, some got first, some got third — and everybody thought they were a winner.”
Sturgeon has been a Special Olympics coach for 27 years and was honored for her service Thursday night with the Coach of the Year award.
Darnell reiterated Sturgeon’s comments, as well, and showed her desire to see others succeed. After placing second and third in her cycling events on Thursday — something all the athletes strive for — she was quick to note that winning does not give her the most satisfaction.
“It feels really good,” Darnell said. “My goal is to see the other people on stage with their smile before my smile, because I love that more than anything.”