LAS VEGAS, Nev. — It’s easy to fall in love with friendly competition. So easy, in fact, that we sometimes forget that it’s just competition.
For some, competition isn’t about scoring the most points or crossing the finish line first, it’s about enjoying the game itself.
For the more than 2,000 athletes, coaches, supporters and Airman volunteers attending the Nevada Special Olympics at Cheyenne High School in Las Vegas, the experience went beyond winning the gold.
“The opportunity to help out the local community is an experience that will last forever,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brian LeClair, 99th Medical Surgical Operations Squadron superintendent and Special Olympics volunteer coordinator. “Working with special needs children strikes a chord in your heart and leaves volunteers with way more than they realize, which is why we encourage our Airmen to participate in these events.”
More than 240 Airmen from Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases volunteered their time during the two-day event to help unite the community and set a good example through fitness and sports play.
“We love working with the Air Force,” said Harry Mong, Nevada Special Olympics Sports Director. “They set the example for the younger generation since these events take place at local high schools. I know that the kids participating enjoy spending the day with some of our local heroes.”
Since being founded in 1968, the Special Olympics have been dedicated to empowering adults and children with intellectual disabilities through sport. Although they make up the largest disability group in the world, those with challenges are often left feeling isolated and alone.
That’s something one Airman says he won’t stand to see happen.
“It’s awesome to come out here and be a part of the community at such a great event,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Cox, 57th Maintenance Operations Squadron precision guided missiles crew chief. “I’m a people person and I love kids, so being able to show them they are important and aren’t left out or different is important to me.”
Airmen, along with volunteers from other local businesses, helped coach, keep score, and encourage the children participating in various track and field events. For many, this wasn’t their first time volunteering.
“I’ve been volunteering and running this event for the last three years, and every year I leave here with more [excitement] than I planned,” said LeClair. “It’s nice to see the kids again and see how they have grown and changed during the past year.”
Mong expressed his gratitude to the men and women of Nellis and Creech for using their limited down time to help further the organization, a gesture that left many glad they did.
“This is my first time volunteering here, and I’m truly happy that I was able to come out and make a difference,” said Capt. Robert Dunphy, 432nd Maintenance Squadron operations officer. “This is something that I will definitely do again in the future.”
People from more than 40 schools from the Las Vegas and surrounding area attended the annual event, and for one mother the day was particularly special.
“This is one of the only times my son sees military people, so it’s nice and fun for him to experience this,” Glorialetty Jauregui, mother of Ethan, seven.
Ethan was among those chosen to light the torch with local law enforcement personnel during the opening ceremony, signifying the start of the games.
“It’s great to see everyone come out and support the kids,” said Jauregui.