It was game on for a few hundred athletes, coaches and their fans this weekend at the Special Olympics Southern California Fall Games.
Athletes from all over Southern California — who have trained and practiced for several weeks, if not longer — gathered in Fountain Valley for the competition. They competed in golf, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball.
And, for the first time, athletes competed in a unified golf competition, which pairs individuals with and without intellectual disabilities, and aspiring cheerleaders participated in a new cheer camp. Eventually, the Games will include competitive and sideline cheer, said Kelly Pond, president and CEO of Special Olympics Southern California.
“By being able to celebrate people’s abilities and what they can do, it breaks down barriers and opens people’s hearts and minds to focus on the place where we’re alike and similar rather than the differences,” Pond said. “It’s so much bigger than the event itself.”
Athletes train in their local communities for several weeks ahead of the Fall Games, said Pond, often competing in local competitions in their city or county.
Aside from the competition, the Special Olympics hosted the Healthy Athletes Village where participants found free health screenings. That includes volunteer dentists who offered mouthguards for certain sports or referrals to dentists.
This year, the Healthy Athletes Village included a new component focused on mental health. Volunteer health practitioners checked in with athletes and chatted about anxiety and stressors and how to deal with them through meditation, breathing and other exercise.
“If you’ve participated in sports growing up, you know what that meant to you, and the Special Olympics is changing lives through the power of sports,” Pond said. “It’s helping our Special Olympics athletes and participants gain self-confidence.”
More than 900 participants were expected at the Games. For more information, including how to volunteer with Special Olympics, visit its website: sosc.org.