The smile and cheers from fans like Siope Moa provided the energy for the athletes competing on Day 1 of the 48th annual Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games at Cal State Long Beach.
A first-time volunteer, Siope came into the event with an open mind and was just “looking to be of service” as part of the Fans in the Stands. After a few minutes watching the Young Athletes Rising Stars basketball display in the Walter Pyramid during the morning, he was already jumping out of his seat and ready to show his support after every basket.
“If I’m here watching you, I’m your No. 1 fan,” said Moa, who made the trip from Victorville and brought his family to Summer Games.
“Man, I love it. We’re happy to be here. I love sports and know how hard it is just to play it myself. To be here and watch these guys work as hard as they do, to be part of this program, it’s just exciting.
“They’re no different from us.”
The energy from the fans would only be matched by the Special Olympics athletes competing for ribbons and medals in the six events. In fact, ask an athlete and many will tell you that it’s the support from the fans that make Summer Games an even bigger deal.
Paul Kim, a 26-year-old track athlete from Glendale who’s been competing for nearly a decade, said the roar of a crowd gives him “a lot of passion to win the race.”
“It makes me feel happy about myself instead of being all nervous,” he added. “It’s really great to have a huge group of people saying, ‘Wooo! Yeaaaah!’”
— Special Olympics CA (@SOSoCal) June 10, 2017
Summer Games also brought out professional athletes and Olympians in the community. Among them was Johnny Hekker, an All-Pro punter for the Los Angeles Rams. Hekker’s enthusiasm was clear at Opening Ceremonies, punting and tossing footballs into the crowd and taking the time to sign autographs and take pictures with the athletes.
Whether it’s a professional athlete or Special Olympics athlete, he enjoys watching competitors and, at this level, the joy is “so pure.” He also acknowledged the hard work and dedication it takes to put on an event of this magnitude.
“I’ve just been loving it. There’s so much to do,” Hekker said. “Every event, you have so many people behind the scenes working to make this all run smoothly. So all the volunteers make Special Olympics as great as it is.”
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) June 10, 2017