“Let Me Win, But If I Cannot Win,
Let Me Be Brave in the Attempt”
These words are of the Special Olympics Southern California Athlete Oath, and for six local athletes, who recently competed in the first ever World Games held in Shanghai, it is the driving force behind their victories. These young men and women with intellectual disabilities emerged as champions, with each of them carrying home gold, silver, or bronze medals from this historic worldwide competition.
At the Pier del Sol 11th Annual Family Day on the Santa Monica Pier held on October 14, a smiling Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger moved through the happy crowd stopping to chat with wheelchair- bound April Falco. He leaned over her frail body and said, “It’s very nice to see you here today to celebrate the Special Olympics.” He then headed to the petting zoo where he picked up a little pig whose squeals indicated his displeasure about the situation, at which point the governor moved on to a less vocal duck who behaved like, well, a duck out of water. In addition to the petting zoo, guests enjoyed unlimited access to Pacific Park’s roller coaster, Ferris wheel, and game booths.
Among the six winners on Team USA is Santa Monica resident Helen Pacheco, who won two gold medals for aquatics – one in the 100-meter backstroke and the other in the 200-meter individual medley competitions. An elated Helen said about her experience, “I really enjoyed myself, especially the opening ceremonies.” Other medalists include Amar Smith, Sara Thiel, and A.J. Fry.
During the ceremony, California First Lady Maria Shriver, Honorary Chair of the event, gave a warm welcome to the assembled crowd. She began by thanking her husband, who has been the Special Olympics global ambassador for years, and who joined the athletes in Shanghai for the opening ceremony on October 1. Scanning the Pier, she noted, “I know he’s here somewhere. He’s probably off eating.” On a more serious note, Shriver appealed to everyone to reach out to people with intellectual disabilities and encouraged parents to have their children “befriend someone at their school, sit with them, have lunch or go to the movies,” adding, “A small gift of friendship could change someone’s life, and the power of ‘we’ is ‘me’ upside down.”
Shriver referred to her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who created the Special Olympics in 1968 to give a place to people with intellectual disabilities. With sports as the main focus, the organization is now the largest of its kind in the world, and its influence has spread to more than 165 countries. In addition to providing free year-round sports training and athletic competition to the more than 12,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Southern California, the organization is active in the areas of health, education, and family support.
In honor of the games, the theme for this year’s Pier del Sol, which has raised more than $3.5 million since its inaugural year, was Shanghai on the Pier. To help celebrate the athletes’ enormous victory, over 35 of LA’s top restaurants – including Spago, Providence, Melisse, Pinks, Valentino, Moonshadows, JiRaffe, Grace, and Ocean and Vine – provided sumptuous food which fed the hundreds of families that attended the fund-raiser.
In addition to welcoming back the returning athletes, the event honored this year’s sponsor, Dominic Ng, Chairman, President, and CEO of East West Bank. Sports legend and Olympic Decathlon Gold Medalist Rafer Johnson was a keynote speaker.
For more information, go to sosc.org.