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Seven-time KSO athlete kicks off event

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Maeson L. Elleman
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
With a grin that stretched from ear to ear, he excitedly charged down the center of the field carrying the coveted Olympic torch, followed closely by members from each of the U.S. military branches on Okinawa.

Stepping onto the platform, he turned and lifted the scepter to the cheers and applause of the immense crowd in front of him before igniting the signal that kicked off the 14th annual Kadena Special Olympic games.

Though he had participated in the event numerous times before, he'd never gotten the opportunity he received this year.

"I've been participating in Kadena Special Olympics since elementary school, and this is the first time I've gotten to be the torch runner," said Hokai Makoto, a 15-year-old special needs athlete at the games. "I like coming to the event each year."

Though he's now an avid Kendo, or Japanese fencing, participant, Makoto hadn't always had it easy.

Years ago, he was affected by an intestinal disease that had left him hospitalized several times and eventually led to a surgical procedure to correct the symptoms.

However, the smile he bore while lighting the torch never left his face as he returned to Kadena Air Base to compete in the games for the seventh consecutive year.

"The first time I participated, I was very nervous because I couldn't speak much English," Makoto said. "Now, I enjoy it a lot."

Makoto's mother, Sayuri Chinju, works at the 18th Force Support Squadron's Shogun Inn, and his grandfather was in the U.S. Air Force stationed on Okinawa as well.

Though he was no stranger to Americans, Makoto said one of his favorite parts of KSO aside from bowling remained spending time with the U.S. volunteers.

"I like working with Americans a lot," he said. "Many Americans tell me, 'Good job!' and (cheer me on). To me, that's the happiest moment."

To his mother, Kadena Special Olympics has been a major part of their family for years.

"It's important to have communication between the two countries," Chinju said. "Because he's going into high school, this could be Hokai's last year. We're very happy we've been able to participate (in the games) so far. It's been awesome every year and a great experience."

This year, more than 2,000 U.S. and Japanese volunteers aided the nearly 20 games at the event.