News>KSO brings Okinawan communities, U.S. military together
Akihito Ueshiro walks with a Japanese interpreter and hugger in the parade during the opening ceremony of the 13th annual Kadena Special Olympics on Kadena Air Base, Nov. 17, 2012. More than 1,500 artists and athletes participated in a variety of events ranging from 200 and 300 meter races, to soccer skills and ground golf. KSO is a sporting event dedicated to enriching the lives of special-needs individuals while strengthening U.S. - Okinawa relationships. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Hailey Davis)
Special-needs athletes take off during the 200-meter dash event center during Kadena Special Olympics on Kadena Air Base, Japan, Nov. 17, 2012. Kadena Special Olympics was established in 2000 by the 18th Wing commander as an avenue to build relations with neighboring communities, while providing a meaningful activity for the special needs children and adults. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Hailey Davis)
by Airman 1st Class Hailey Davis
18th Wing Public Affairs
11/19/2012 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Although 13 years and innumerable participants have come and gone since the first Kadena Special Olympics, one special-needs athlete has remained a constant competitor for the past half decade.
Akihito Ueshiro, from Okinawa City, Okinawa, Japan, continues to demonstrate his unwavering enthusiasm for this Japanese-American led event by participating in several events throughout the past five years.
Roughly 2,200 American volunteers paired up with more than 500 local interpreters Nov. 17 supporting the largest Special Olympics event outside the United States to give nearly 1,500 special-needs athletes and artists an opportunity to compete here.
However, amongst the massive crowd of participants and spectators at each of the 14 events on Kadena, at least one athlete attended for more than praise for placing in an event. Though the 26-year-old athlete, who said running was one of his favorite events, took third place in the 200-meter dash this year, Akihito said winning a medal wasn't his inspiration for participating in the games; he enjoyed the opportunity to interact with and have the support of the huggers.
"I enjoy being with the huggers, and I participate because it's fun," Akihito said. In addition to having support of the huggers, he looks at Special Olympics as a gift to himself and said that it's great to be able to work with Americans.
As he participated in the events, he walked side-by-side with his American partner, and showed that the partnership is one of the reasons he always comes back to the community-driven, athlete-inspired event.
"We have distinguished visitors but more importantly we have the community coming in and serving and helping the athletes," said Brig. Gen. Matt Molloy, 18th Wing commander. "This day brings us even closer together. It embodies the 'Ichiriba Chode' Okinawan proverb - 'once we meet, we are brothers and sisters forever.'"
The commander also said that KSO is an opportunity for the military services community and their families across Okinawa, to extend an invitation of celebration to the local community and the community all over Okinawa.
"(Special needs athletes and artists) give back to us and teach us that no matter what life circumstances may deal you, you can rise above personal limitations and find happiness, joy and contentment," Molloy said. "Special Olympics is an opportunity to serve our athletes and our artists. When we extend our arms in service, what we receive back is a spectacular gift for the heart."