A Very Special Olympics

Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” Column, South Pasadena Review 8.6.15

By Ann Suk Wang

The Special Olympics: Volleyball at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion
The Special Olympics: Volleyball at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion

After the last note of the floor exercise played and the final pose held, a gymnast sprinted off, into an excited embrace with her coach. Together they almost fell over, twirling with joy as the athlete’s legs and arms wound around the coach’s torso. It looked like an octopus clinging to a pillar. The pillar stood strong.

I waited in line for 45 minutes with two whining boys to get into the John Wooden Center at UCLA and experienced this glorious moment. It was worth it for all of us.

Last week, Los Angeles was graced with a special event: the Special Olympics. And I say graced because it was a gift to L.A. to participate in the celebration of diversity and be inspired by the determination and courage of those around the world with an intellectual disability.

My family also attended volleyball games, the first ever “dance challenge” and the closing ceremony; all were tear-jerkingly inspirational. We had witnessed the thrill of victory, not only for a medal, but personal victories to overcome with disabilities that, truth be told, melted into the background.

South Pasadena had the privilege of being a “Host Town” to athletes from Morocco and Paraguay. More than 100 communities from San Louis Obispo to San Diego participated by being matched with delegations from different countries. Volunteers welcomed guest before the games through parades and activities, spread the word around town about events to come and cheered during competitions for their matched athletes.

The Special Olympics are held every two years, alternating summer and winter games (and should not to be confused with Paralympics, held the week after The Olympics for those with physical disabilities.) Their motto: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt” was coined by Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver at the first games in 1968, held in her backyard.

Since then, the Special Olympics has promoted awareness and been a champion for equality, inclusion, and acceptance. During the 9 days of the 2015 summer games, there were about 7,000 athletes, 177 countries represented, 30,000 volunteers, 3,000 coaches, and 500,000 spectators (millions more watched on TV).

Volunteer healthcare professionals gave free exams and met the health care needs of the athletes. Michael Wang, a physician at USC and my husband, cared for a football coach with malaria and an athlete with a foot infection, requiring surgery.

“Fans in the Stands” gathered groups of 10 or more to attend sporting events to cheer for the athletes at dozens of venues around L.A. (like UCLA, USC, Long Beach, Griffith Park, Lucky Strikes in Downtown and more.)

Special Olympics Inaugural Dance Challenge: me with Cody Carlson, made popular in So You Think You Can Dance
Special Olympics Inaugural Dance Challenge: me with Cody Carlson, made popular in So You Think You Can Dance

The “Inaugural Dance Challenge,” launched at the Wallis Annenberg Center, was hosted by Nigel Lythgoe, producer of “So You Think You Can Dance” and judged by famous names like Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul and Twitch, to name a few. Apolo Ohno, Gold Medalist in speed skating at the 2006 Winter Olympics, said it well, “This night is about being unified on the field and in life.” Ben Vereen, the “preacher” of the night said, “The dance heals us. [It’s] not only for the people dancing, but for us.”

The dancers were magical, whether from Panama or Pakistan. I almost lost my voice in collective shouts of excitement as soloists leapt in a lyrically graceful jeté, couples glided across the stage in beautiful ballroom gowns and crews hit it hard while onlookers bounced to the beat and hooted their approval. One soloist even got there late, due to a bus problem, but was given the opportunity to perform anyway, his hard work rewarded with cheers and tears.

“The world comes together to see our athletes in action and celebrate their victories over huge odds. The Special Olympics World Game embraces unity, achievement and dignity,” states the la2015.org website.

This last week, my own chest swelled with pride for the courageous athletes and all the supportive people around them, holding them up and giving the rest of us a snap shot of a hopeful future.

Blog Hopping with Gifted Writers

Though I am new to the term “blog hop,” the way I understand it is this: It gives people a chance to dig into the mind of a writer… an interesting place to go spelunking whether or not you’re a writer yourself AND to find some cool blogs you may not have discovered otherwise.

Vivian MabuniI was invited to participate by Vivian Mabuni, author of the recently released “Warrior In Pink,” fellow Redbud writer, mentor from our UCLA days, and dear friend. Viv is on staff with Cru and speaks messages of inspiration and truth around the globe. I’m fortunate to know her and meet with her during our monthly writer pow wows, along with the talented Karen Yates. Make sure you check-out Viv’s book above; it truly is a moving and eye-opening “Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts.”

 

In regards the blog hop… how does it work? Basically, I answer 4 questions below and introduce you to bloggers I love! They, in turn, will blog the same thing the following week. So with no further ado, here are thoughts on my sometimes manic and sometimes peaceful writing life…

1. What am I writing or working on?

Monarchs and middle grade fiction (not at the same time)

I am so excited to research (like in my kitchen, hands-on kind of research) and write about monarch butterflies for the San Fernando-based “Quarterly” magazine. In between cleaning the frass (butterfly poop) off my counter and managing to keep my children fed (yuck, that should not be in the same sentence), I am also editing my middle grade novel about Fred Fu and his deceased dog come to life to help solve a mystery of missing pets and homeless boys.

I also write features and have a column “A Stone’s Throw” in the South Pasadena Review newspaper (remember those big sheets of folding paper that make your hands turn black and smell so…  journalistic!?) I’m still a bit old school in this way.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to think my Christian, Asian, family-centric, animal-loving, tea-drinking, (Tahitian) hula dancing, gardener wannabe self makes my work unique and unto itself, thought-provoking and quirky for all to behold.

3. Why do I write what I do?

…because if I don’t, I might explode (excuse me, it’s late) AND to use my God-given love for words for the benefit of community – encouraging, inspiring, informing, enjoying (especially for kids, because I’m a big one).

4. How does my writing process work?

Oh boy! I’m still trying to figure this one out. It’s currently 3:46 AM! And I’m willing myself to sleep, but my fingers press on, (no pun intended.) I write at various times, in all places (pools, schools, toilets, outlets…), under any circumstance (thunderstorms, 100 degree weather, power outages…) I write when I’m sad, mad, happy, confused… It clears my head (making space for more to flood in). I hate it. I love it. I can’t do without it.

But if I must break it down, I usually: research 80% (way more than I need). I write 10%. I pull my hair out and swear I’ll stop taking on new writing assignments (especially when on deadline) 11%.

Now for the fun part, INTRODUCING bloggers I love…

Caroline Park and I met at NewSong church and bonded quickly (we are, in fact, both ENFJ’s on the Myers Briggs personality test). We can have a deep and meaningful conversation one minute, then be completely silly the next. I have so much fun with Caroline and admire her heartfelt candor… she’s like the little sister I’ve always wanted growing up and finally have!

Caroline Park

Caroline is eternally grateful that she has been able to live a life that has been filled with stories of pain, love, and joy. The fact that she loves writing is a juicy cherry on top, since now she can share with the world what she hopes will inspire hope and encourage laughter. During the day, she works in marketing at one of the best start-ups in the country, and by night, she’s drinking whiskey and spending as much time as possible with wonderful friends. But the top three things she thinks about on a daily basis? Animals (hippos and dogs, mainly), food, and how to get that food in her mouth.

Ways to connect with Caroline:
blog – carolinehungers.com
facebook – facebook.com/carolinehungers
twitter – @carolinejaz
IG – @carorine

Stella Erbes has been a dear friend since High School. She was always the smart, God-fearing older sister I never had and am grateful to have now! Because Stella is always a few steps ahead of me in life, I know I can always look to her for guidance and a caring ear. We also happen to have a lot of fun together!

Stella ErbesDr. Stella Erbes is a teacher at heart. Her passion to teach and help others has led her to compose her blog full of lifestyle resources. Dr. Erbes is a university professor and teaches education courses which help prepare future teachers. She hopes that the entries prepared in her blog will lead her readers to exceptional food, unforgettable travel, and better living. Check out her book, What Teachers Should Know But Textbooks Don’t Show, a practical and engaging guide for any teacher.

Ways to connect with Stella:

blog – stellarstops.com

twitter – @stellarstops or @stellaerbes

email – stella@stellarstops.com

 

12 Days of Christmas Ornaments: A Tradition of Memories — Day 7

IMG_3749On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me –

7 Bruins beating Trojans (38-28!),

6 Asian orbs, 5 manger scenes! 4 major awards, 3 dancing pigs, 2 handmade bells, and a portrait to put on the tree.

A shameless plug for UCLA? Okay, maybe a little. But even more, today is about celebrating places from our past (schools, cities, work places…) that have molded and influenced us.

The mention of a place can trigger so many memories: of people I love, wisdom I’ve learned, things I’ve done. So when I meet a fellow Bruin (UCLA), a Matador (CSUN), or a Terrier (BU), or someone who has lived in Boston, Orange County, or East Asia, I have an instant connection with them.IMG_3759

College, going overseas for a missions trip, graduate school, and maneuvering through new jobs were times I came into my own.

It’s where I discovered that journalism and writing in general were my passion. It’s where I fell in love with children’s books, like Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings in Boston’s Public Garden. It’s where I met God and His people in profound ways (thank you Cru). And it was during this time that I met my wonderful husband. And the rest, shall we say, is history.

What places bring back good memories for you? More than a vacation (I will cover this later), these are places where you spent significant time. Chances are, not all the memories were good ones, but hopefully something positive came out of even the difficulties. And with hindsight, maybe you can see its significance in your life now.

Personal history is not to be dismissed. When brought up from time to time and seen through a fresh lens, it can actually help direct our future for the better.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me – visit here tomorrow to see.