Special Olympics Athletes Train Hard For Summer Games

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Special Olympics Hawaii is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its summer games. For months, the athletes have been practicing for this weekend of competition.

Courage, determination, joy -- qualities you'll find in Special Olympics athletes like Robert Yuge.

"I enjoy playing softball," he said. "And I get along with my teammates, you know."

The 79-year-old and the rest of the Rainbow team are training hard for the state summer games.

"How does it make you feel when you get a hit?" this reporter asked.

"I feel good," Yuge replied. "You know, that's why I bring my own bat."

Over three days, some 800 athletes from across Hawaii will compete in softball, swimming, power lifting, and track and field.

"To get there is really the culminating event," Dan Epstein, Special Olympics Hawaii Vice President, said. "They get to put on their brand new uniforms, and they get all these people cheering for them. They get really recognized for what the, all the effort they've been putting in."

Special Olympics provides opportunities for adults and children with intellectual disabilities to develop physically, mentally and socially. Coaches say they enjoy watching the athletes grow, on and off the field.

"Before maybe they weren't holding a job. Now they have their confidence, the self esteem, the physical fitness to go hold meaningful work," Epstein said.

But this weekend, the game plan is simple. Do their best on the big stage.

"You see them winning a game, or sometimes losing a game, if they put in a good effort, then you can see the camaraderie, the excitement," Epstein said. "It's fantastic."

Yuge is ready to play ball.

"I'm doing my best to help them out," he said. "Even my age, I help them out."

KHNL News 8 is a year-round sponsor of Special Olympics Hawaii.

KHNL News 8's Minna Sugimoto is a certified Special Olympics softball coach.