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JBLM celebrates special athletes at Special Olympics

Northwest Guardian

Published: 07:10PM June 5th, 2014

Every year, athletes with physical and mental disabilities arrive at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to compete in the Washington Special Olympics, demonstrating their fitness and sharing unique levels of joy and courage.

The three-day 2014 Olympics began May 30 with an opening ceremony in McChord Field’s Hangar 1. Lakewood Police Department and JBLM law enforcement officers carried the Olympic torch to the hangar after smaller torches from throughout the state arrived and combined to ignite the “Flame of Hope” in front of a record number of 2,800 athletes.

The competition began Saturday with track and field events at Cowan Stadium, soccer at Watkins Field, powerlifting at the Child, Youth and School Services’ Sports and Fitness Center and cycling on Lewis North. Aquatic events were held at King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

Between events, athletes gathered at the “Olympic Town,” the JBLM version of an Olympic Village, to relax, get acquainted and have a little fun. Organizers set up a karaoke booth this year, and areas were set aside for athletes to receive free health screenings and eye exams.

There were also more than 1,000 pairs of shoes handed out to athletes.

“A lot of our athletes depend on the exhibits to get shoes that are this nice,” said Janice Janofsky, coach of Ingraham High School’s Special Olympics team from Seattle.

The work behind the scenes began in February when members of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division sent out calls for volunteer logistical support for the games to its subordinate units.

The 520th Infantry Battalion took the lead by setting up a command and control node in neighboring Memorial Stadium to coordinate transportation to and from events for the athletes.

The Arrowhead Brigade’s 296th Brigade Support Battalion shared real-world expertise by providing water for athletes and setting up tents for Olympic Town.

Many volunteer service members said it was inspiring to see the athletes competitive efforts and their excitement at meeting men and women in uniform.

“We see the athletes and how excited they are, but it also means a lot to the Soldiers that they can support an event like this,” said 1st Lt. Cole Edgley of the 520th Inf. Bn.

The respect is mutual from the teams that came from every corner of the state to participate in events that displayed their abilities — from throwing a softball as far as they could to deadlifting more than 300 pounds.

The military members supporting the event recognized familiar traits in the Special Olympians: resilience and perseverance. Though the events got tough for some, nobody gave up.

“They may not be out fighting the wars, but they’re part of the special world for three days and we’re sharing our abilities with them,” said Mary Ellen Eagle, coach of Seattle Eagles Special Olympics team.

Cowan Stadium manager Otis Sistrunk has played a role in most of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s major holiday events and community celebrations for the last three decades, including the annual Freedom Fest and Armed Forces Day. But for the former Oakland Raider, the real highlight of his job is being part of the Special Olympic Summer Games each year. One of his biggest regrets about his plan to retire in December is Sistrunk’s realization this was his 23rd and final Special Olympics.

“Some of these kids I’ve been seeing since I started here,” Sistrunk said. “This is very important to the kids and it’s important for us working here to make this possible.”