I have been a volunteer for Special Olympics for the past 8 years. Each October we have a fund-raising event at the Santa Monica Pier, Pier del Sol, where several hundred individuals pay nicely to dine and play in the company of Honorary Chairman Maria Shriver and her (then) husband, the Governor. I help to bring 38 well-known restaurants there to sample their savory tastes to the VIP recipients. But I was in the dark about the spectacular event upcoming until I was invited to a reception of the Special Olympics World Games Board at CAA last week. Oh, my, this was huge news....at least to me. In the company of Maria and board members: philanthropist and old friend Sherry Lansing, the N.Y. Giants' Steve Tisch, Dreamworks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg, Olympic winner Rafer Johnson, CAA's Doc O'Connor and Lionsgate co-chairman Rob Friedman, a smart fellow named Patrick McClenahan introduced himself to me as the President and CEO of the Special Olympics World Summer Games Los Angeles 2015. What? World Games? I got an earful that night.....which I am now passing along with great glee to my Huffington readers.
Patrick McClenahan is the President and CEO of the World Games. all photos by Jay
It will be L.A.'s biggest sporting event since the 1984 Olympics 31 years ago, which were a huge success. It seems that our fair city was bidding against a horde of other communities to host the 2015 games....and we were selected. So I am told that 7,000 of the world's top athletes with intellectual disabilities from 170 countries will be here to compete in 25 different sporting events. In addition to the athletes, there will be some 3,000 coaches, their families and friends, and more than 500,000 enthusiastic spectators. That's a really impressive number of people descending upon our community next summer over the course of twelve days, from late July to early August. It is expected that some $400 million will be injected into the local economy by the event. My new friend Susan Pollack, their Senior V.P., told me that at least 2,000 media reps will also be here. And she smiled and said that, when this event goes off well (as we know it will) , we will be in a good position to win the Summer Olympics Games in 2024.
Special Olympics athletes Paul Hoffman and Susan Johnson were on hand to discuss the games.
Naturally I had a hundred questions. Where will they all stay?....Where will they play? All of my queries were answered in the course of the evening by Special Olympics COO Jeff Carr, Elga Sharp, VP of International Relations, and other staff members. There will be 30,000 volunteers working the games, and 5,000 honored guests. Board Chair Rob Friedman told me that there will be 27 world-class venues, from Special Olympics Athletic Villages at USC and UCLA to the Staples Center, Pauley Pavilion, LA Live and the Convention Center. A star-studded opening ceremony will be held on July 25th at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (site of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games). Susan told me that on three days preceding the opening ceremony, the HOST TOWN program will be in effect, where 100 cities throughout California, from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, will serve as host to one or more delegations. Athletes will get acclimated to the environment (easy, with our climate) and prepare for their competition....and will be encouraged by pep rallies and exhibitions. Jeff told me that volunteer healthcare professionals will provide the athletes with free screenings and services in several clinical areas. These athletes will receive referrals for follow-up care, prescriptions for eyeware, hearing aids and other life-changing care. Medical volunteers return to their schools and medical practices with the experience and desire to better treat people with intellectual disabilities. I was astonished to learn that in the world today there are appoximately 200 million people with these intellectual disabilities. They are often the most neglected, vulnerable and marginalized people in every society and culture. Special Olympics is a global movement dedicated to providing this population with opportunities to be healthy, to display courage, to build self-confidence, to experience joy, and to be accepted and included as valued members of their communities around the world.
Maria Shriver is Honorary Chair of the group which her mother founded.
Maria Shriver told the assemblage how it all started, when her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, in 1968 organized the first International Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field in Chicago. One thousand athletes with intellectual disabilities from 26 U.S, states and Canada competed in athletics, floor hockey and aquatics. More than 4.2 million athletes from over 170 countries participated in over 70,000 events this past year....and the signature event has become The World Games held every two years alternating between Winter and Summer events. President Barack Obama and Michelle are the honorary chairs of the upcoming event while Governor Jerry Brown and Mayor Eric Garcetti are Honorary Hosts. Susan told me that the Coca Cola Company, Mattel and Deloitte are Official Partners, and Mark Davis of Davis Elen Advertising proudly told me that his company was one of the Games Sponsors along with Kaiser Permanente. The goal of raising $90 million is well along and new participants are coming in every day. Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw and David Geffen, for example, have each kicked in a million dollars in cash. The athletes and coaches will pay their own way here but once they arrive the host committee will provide food (360,000 meals) and housing, medical care and even translators for participants. Their official slogan is "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
I am new to this, but I will report on it to my friends reading Huffington from now on through the games. I will also detail how we all can join in to participate in many ways. Our city is full of movie stars and all-stars, but next summer the true stars will be these Special Olympic athletes....coming from all corners of the globe, they will show us incredible courage, unwavering determination and, yes, sheer joy! As Sherry said, "By living out their dreams in front of the world, they will open hearts and minds and expand our collective sense of acceptance and inclusion."
I suspect the social impact of these games is truly significant and lasting. No question that the awareness created by the Games leads to a heightened acceptance and inclusion of all people with intellectual disabilities....and ultimately to ALL people with differences. This must transform their communities and thus the world. Yes, I get it!
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