Sun shines on Special Olympians

LIHU’E — Mike Murakoshi of First Hawaiian Bank was not alone as he welcomed the rays of the Saturday-morning sunrise.

Murakoshi, speaking before an audience of several hundred people at the opening of the Kaua’i Special Olympics field games at Vidinha Stadium, said, “The skies are open. The rain is good, but we need a little sunshine to grow.”

This growth was contagious, as the spirit of giving and receiving became melded as one as Special Olympics athletes were cheered on by not only their peers, but by athletes of other sporting programs.

Earlier in the morning, football players from the Kapa’a and Waimea high school programs joined law-enforcement and other community members in the Troy Barboza Memorial Run that started at the First Hawaiian Bank branch in Lihu’e and saw runners bring the torch to the stadium.

“We love them,” Waimea High School football coach Kyle Linoz said of the Special Olympics athletes. Linoz explained that he had accompanied the athletes to several of their state competitions prior to taking the coaching position.

“They love us, and we love them,” he said.

Similarly, Kaua’i High School football coach Keli’i Morgado, who was sitting with some of his team members in the stands, had explained to his boys on their inaugural appearance at the games several years ago, “They come to watch you play, so now is the time you come to watch them compete.”

Kaua’i High School girls’ basketball coach Dennis Aquino also had his team on hand from 7 a.m., the girls showing little sign of their hard-fought battle on Friday night, and dispersed into the field to help record, escort athletes to the winners’ tent, and, between duties, even spend some time cheering.

Doug Sears had his Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa volunteers on hand, as the Grand Hyatt Kauai employees have long-time community supporters of the event, explained Dickie Chang of Wala’au Productions, who served as the event’s host.

Kaua’i Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste thanked the audience members for their support of the program.

“I am proud to be the mayor of a place where people care about all the people who live and visit here,” Baptiste said. “Now, go out there, enjoy the new track, and break some records!”

The Kaua’i Special Olympics program has been setting trends over the past few years, Kaua’i director Jocelyn Barriga explained.

Kylie Moniz, who carried the torch and lit the symbolic flame to open the games, is the first Kaua’i Special Olympian who will represent the state at the National Games later this summer in Iowa, Barriga said.

Moniz will be competing in power lifting, an event that Barriga said was only introduced to Kaua’i in 2005. Moniz qualifying for the nationals in that event.

Amara Coon is the statewide 2005 Special Olympics Athlete of the Year, Barriga pointed out.

Coon is a “global messenger” for Special Olympics.

Choosing her words carefully, and speaking distinctly, Coon said, “That means that I get to tell people all the great things Special Olympics does for my friends and me.

“Special Olympics Kaua’i sent me to a special class in Honolulu,” Coon said. “They taught me how to speak to people without being afraid.”

Coon suffered a stroke, and people thought she would never be able to speak again, Barriga said. But, with the help of Suzi Smalling, and members of her family, Coon delivered the keynote opening speech on behalf of the 72 Special Olympics athletes.

Special Olympics has over 1,700 athletes in Hawai’i. Barriga noted that Kaua’i has over 100, and of that number 72 were competing at Vidinha Stadium on Saturday.

Coon said, “Our athletes are as young as 8, and as old as 80.”

Special Olympics athletes compete in year-round activities that start with track and field, softball, and power lifting, with bocce ball and soccer taking the limelight in the fall. During the winter, basketball and bowling occupy athletes’ time.

“Without these programs, many of us would have no sports activities at all,” Coon said. “Special Olympics lets me make friends, have fun, exercise, learn to be healthy, and to give speeches like this so I won’t be afraid.

“Special Olympics Kaua’i raises its own money to support all the athletes who otherwise would be at home watching TV all day,” Coon explained to the audience.

“I love Special Olympics, and I thank you for loving us, too!”

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