Special Olympic Southern California Summer Games 2016

Special Olympic Southern California Summer Games 2016

     Photo credits: Freddie B. Photography™ (Copyright 2016)

 I woke up on the morning of June 11 in Long Beach to an overcast & foggy morning, with the forecasted promise of light rain throughout the morning.  The average person would think to themselves how dreary the day to come would be.  But then again, the average person probably hasn't been to a Special Olympics event, for if they knew what the day held for me, they'd realize that nothing would put a damper on the joy that would be experienced and seen that day during the Special Olympics Southern California Summer games.  I already knew better for I have had the honor and privilege of attending a variety of other Special Olympics events in the past and have witnessed firsthand the most endearing and inspiring examples of the human spirit and joy, and I knew the summer games would be no exception.

     As I prepared to depart for Cal State Long Beach where the games were being held, I felt the buzz of excitement and anticipation within me of what I knew I would be experiencing throughout the weekend and the photographic opportunities to be had; I could virtually visualize the type of shots I so much desired.  With over 1,100 athletes from across Southern California who would competing in the summer games, I knew I would not have much difficulty.

     I arrived in plenty of time to position myself for the opening ceremonies, which I suspected would kick off the games with much inspiration and excitement among the numerous in attendance. I found my suspicions correct as the opening ceremonies began with the parade of athletes; so many smiling faces and looks of excitement. 

The Parade of Athletes at the Special Olympic Southern California Summer Games 2016The Parade of Athletes at the Special Olympic Southern California Summer Games 2016
     Once the seemingly endless column of athletes filed up to the stage, the ceremony began with the presentation of the colors as
up and coming teen pop singer/songwriter Coda Corvette sung a beautiful rendition of the National Anthemwhich was followed by several inspiration speakers.

     The opening ceremonies concluded with the lighting of the Special Olympics cauldron by the Flame of Hope that began the official start of the games - since 1968, the Flame of Hope has been a symbol of respect and inclusion and has been carried by Special Olympics athletes, law enforcement and supporters alike over the years and for these summer games, the Flame of Hope was carried to the cauldron from over 1,500 miles through 200 Southern California communities.

     Upon conclusion of the opening ceremonies and among the flurry of activity of those going to the variety of competitions and activities, I found myself overwhelmed with so much that I wished to see; a part of me wished that I was cloned a quadruple times over so I could be in multiple places at the same time to capture everything that can be seen, heard, and experienced.  My choice for the day ended up being the track and field, where I met with Livier Martinez, the mother of athlete Camelia Martinez who would be competing in the 100m, 200m, relay race, and running long jump.

     I asked Livier how Camelia became involved in Special Olympics.  Livier told me when Camelia was much younger, she searched to involve Camelia in an activity that would help her with her self-esteem and something to make her feel better about herself.  As Livier thought about it, running came to Livier’s mind because of Camelia’s tall height, so when Camelia turned nine years old; over four years ago, Livier enrolled Camelia in the Special Olympics.  Olivier began taking Camelia to the Special Olympics track and field practices every weekend and Livier told me, “When Camelia runs, her face lights up. It’s like, ‘I can do anything.’”  Livier told me there is always a smile Camelia’s face when she runs, and to prove it, she could show me photo after photo after photo as evidence.  I asked Livier what has Camelia’s involvement in the Special Olympics done for her.  Livier told me the Special Olympics has helped Camelia with her self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-assurance and when Camelia puts on her jersey, she is no longer the quiet and shy girl she grew up as, but one who does not hesitate to share with those around her, even with strangers, that she is an athlete.  Livier shared with me one memory from when they attended the summer games for the very first time about four years ago.  Livier said as they were checking into the hotel in preparation of the weekend event, Camelia did not hesitate to declare to the hotel staff, “I’m an athlete.”

     I watched Camelia compete in several races throughout the weekend and in the running long jump on Sunday.  One thing I noticed as I watched Camelia, is that the smile Livier told me about was ever so present when she competed, from start to finish.  I had the opportunity to briefly speak with Camelia after one of her races, during which time she shared with me that one of the most memorable times of her involvement with the Special Olympics, was running with her father, who is a federal agent, in one of the Law Enforcement Torch Runs.  As I watched Camelia throughout the weekend, and spoke with her on various occasions, I noticed that she constantly had this huge grinning smile that infected all of those around her, including me; one’s day could not help but to be brightened by Camelia’s presence.

     As I watched the various races throughout the weekend, not only did I witness inspiring examples of courage and determination, but a joy among the athletes that I knew so well was so characteristic of the Special Olympics events I have attended in the past. I mentioned to one fellow photographer as we stood on the track, how heartwarming it was to me that every athlete that competed that day seemed so elated, even the ones to come across the finish last.  I noticed this same elation during the awards ceremonies at the track and field; even the ones who stood in last place to receive their medals or ribbons displayed such a sense of accomplishment and pride that it reminded me there were no losers at the games. 

     On Sunday morning, I met with Mark McCorkle, a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Commander, who first became involved with the Special Olympics about 10 years earlier when he was asked to help with awarding medals to the Special Olympic athletes at the spring games in Santa Clarita, California.  Mark shared with me that the first time he placed a medal around the neck of a Special Olympics athlete, “…I was hooked for life.  The huge smile and genuine gratitude touched me deeply.”  Since that day, Mark has become heavily involved in fund raising for Special Olympics, including work on the annual Chili Cook Off in Santa Clarita, organizing a Bunco fund raiser, tip-a-cops and a number of other fund-raising efforts.  In addition, Mark is a member of the Southern California Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) council and is currently the chairman for the Santa Clarita-Tri-Valley Council.  I asked Mark to share with me one of the more memorable moments of his involvement with the Special Olympics.  Mark told me that last summer, he had the opportunity to plan and participate in the Final Leg of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Law Enforcement Torch Run in Los Angeles.  Mark shared that the “crowning moment” for him was being on the floor of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum when the Flame of Hope was carried in-that was for him he described a, “Truly a very emotional moment.”  I learned that Mark would be attending the Special Olympics World Games in Austria next year as a member of the LETR and I asked him how that came about.  Mark told me he was nominated by the Southern California LETR Council and selected by the Team Captain, John Newnan-“I am very honored to have the opportunity to carry the flame of Hope in Austria and spread advancement for people with intellectual disabilities.”  With my own hopes of attending the Special Olympics World Games in Austria next year as a photojournalist, I will continue to follow Mark’s journey from here to there.

     I spent the remainder of Sunday morning watching the gymnastics, for which Mark’s wife, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Gerri McCorkle, is a coach for.  I was memorized, and at times moved to tears, as I witnessed the joy and happiness of athlete after athlete, both young and old, performing their various routines, which at times were very simplistic in nature but were profoundly inspirational nonetheless. I left the gym that morning with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to experience the joy the gymnastic athletes shared with all those in attendance; I thought to myself that if the people of the world could experience and share in this same unadulterated joy, the world would be a much better place. 

     The weekend was just not all about the athletic events.  The summer games also featured live entertainment, sponsor-ran booths with interactive games, community and non-profit groups, and law enforcement agencies with vehicle displays and a Family Pavilion, which provides a place where families can meet one another, learn about Special Olympics programs and initiatives, and spend time between competitions.  As I wandered through the festival with my assistant, Christina LaScala and her granddaughter Madison, I saw the same abundant examples of joy and happiness that I saw on the track everywhere I turned.  At various points during the weekend, I saw a deaf girl overcome with glee upon discovering that “Barbie” knew sign language, I saw a happy-go-lucky girl doing the “Chicken Dance” with “Cracker Jack”, I saw children and adults alike trying their luck at the various games; most if not all walked away with a prize or two, and I saw joyous people dancing to the energetic song performances by Coda Corvette live on stage.

     On Sunday, we stopped by one of the booths, “WeCare Industries”, which I learned is a non-profit organization that, in part, provides free salon services for those less fortunate; the team of WeCare Industries was at the games providing braids of all colorful sorts to those who so desired.  As I later read on their web page: “Our team at We Care Industries works together with one heart and purpose. We are dedicated to service, compassion, and making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate, sharing our message that God loves everyone.”   While I waited for Madison to receive one of these colorful braids, I met with the founder and CEO of WeCare Industries, Vickie Edwards, and when she spoke of her organization, she spoke with the very same compassion and dedication that I found to be commonplace among all those involved in some way with the Special Olympics-truly inspiring.  Before I left, I reluctantly agreed to a braid of my own, and all I asked was it be in the style of the 70’s, as I considered myself somewhat of a 70’s throwback.  

     The weekend came to an end with the closing ceremonies Sunday afternoon, that featured more inspirational speakers including Rafer Johnson, the founder of the Southern California Special Olympics.  There were also several presentations, including two by Rafer Johnson and his daughter, Jenny Johnson Jordan, who presented the “Paul and Margaret Thorsen Most Inspirational Athlete Award” to athletes Glenn Priest and Jamar Lindsey.  The recipients were selected by Rafer and Jenny and the award is named after Rafer's mother-in-law and father-in-law, who were big supporters of Special Olympics. 

     Bill Shumard, the President and CEO of Special Olympics Southern California, presented volunteer Marilyn Skinner the “John West Memorial Award”, which is presented to one volunteer annually that has shown exemplary commitment to the Special Olympics. 

     The Southern California Special Olympics summer games came to an end upon the relighting of the Flame of Hope at the Special Olympics cauldron, which was then carried away to symbolize the end of the summer games.  As I reflect back on that weekend, I find myself once again overcome with gratitude and a sense of privilege and honor for having the opportunity to witness such examples of human spirit, camaraderie, and joy that I wish everyone could experience.  If you have not had the opportunity to attend a special Olympics event, then I would highly recommend that you do as I suspect that once you have, your life be enriched so much more from the experience.  I know mine has and I will forever be grateful.

*To view the rest of the images I captured during my coverage of the Summer Games, please visit my gallery here: http://goo.gl/O3odbI

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Written by: Fred Neil Bommer II (Freddie B. of Freddie B. Photography) See other articles by Fred Neil Bommer II (Freddie B. of Freddie B. Photography)
About the Author:

  Fred Neil Bommer II, aka Freddie B., was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in July 2015 after he discovered earlier in the year his adult son was suspected of having it, then researching it himself, which solved his lifelong mystery about why he was the way he was and was so different from most others.  But in spite of the life’s challenges and struggles Freddie B. experienced as an "Aspie" throughout his life, he discovered an "escape" early on--photography, followed by a passion for writing. 

      In early 2015, Freddie B. put his love and passion of photography to use by becoming a photographer for Specialneeds.com, ultimately covering the nine days of the Special Olympic World Games LA 2015 in the latter part of July as a credentialed media photographer.  Then a few months later, Freddie B. was able to add his love and passion for writing into the mix by becoming a credentialed photojournalist for Specialneeds.com.

     Freddie B. is a member of the Professional Photographer's of America Assn. (PPA) and the National Press Photographers Assn. (NPPA) and aspires to be a freelance photojournalist traveling abroad beginning in early 2017.

To read more about Freddie B. and view samples of his work, including that of the Special Olympic World Games LA 2015 and other Special Olympic events he has covered, please visit his web page at www.freddiebphotography.com and his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/freddiebphotography.

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