CSUN Welcomes the Special Olympians to the Valley for the World Games

  • CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison speaks in front of the crowd gathered at the Valley Performing Arts Center for the Special Olympics presentation. Photo by Lee Choo.

  • Former Olympian Rafer Johnson speaks about the history of the Special Olympics, which he's been a part of for more than 40 years. Photo by Lee Choo.

  • Allen Wales, a former Special Olympian and current World Games Messenger, speaks on the excitement of the Games coming to Southern California.

Under a blue San Fernando Valley sky, California State University, Northridge warmly received a delegation from the Special Olympics to celebrate the Valley’s participation in the upcoming Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015 this summer. Before the games begin, however, CSUN will house nearly 500 athletes from Azerbaijan, Greece, Malta, Serbia, Venezuela and Vietnam from July 21-24 as they train and prepare for World Games.

Representatives from CSUN, including President Dianne F. Harrison; the Special Olympics, including former Olympian Rafer Johnson; and delegates from the offices of Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mitchell Englander and Bob Blumenfield spoke at the event. The group outlined the effort, which will involve more than 30,000 volunteers across all of Southern California. It’s an event that will highlight the best of CSUN, according to President Harrison.

“In the same way CSUN lifts our region, the Special Olympics lift the spirits of athletes, families and spectators from around the world,” President Harrison said. “The Special Olympics empowers people and champions access and inclusion. [CSUN is] proud to partner with such a life-changing organization and be a part of the largest sporting event in the world this year.”

After the athletes leave the CSUN campus to participate in the games, they will disperse to stay in various parts of the Valley until their individual and team events in venues across Los Angeles.
Approximately 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 countries will crisscross Southern California for the World Games, which will take place July 25-Aug. 2. The games may appear, on the surface, to present a major logistical challenge. But Rafer Johnson sees it a different way.

Johnson, the Olympic decathlete who won Gold in the 1960 Games and Silver in the 1956 Games, has helped build up the Special Olympics since the late 1960s. He started the California Special Olympics in 1969 with only 900 athletes. For something he believes in, the fact that Southern California is bursting at the seams with these athletes is a great sign.

“I’ve been on the Board of Directors for the Special Olympics for over 40 years,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen the program grow, and I’m looking forward to what’s about to transpire here in Los Angeles for the 2015 World Games. I think it will be one of the most glorious moments in the history of the program.”

When asked what Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics (and sister of President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy), would think about the growth it’s seen since her passing in 2009, Johnson beamed.

“She would be so proud and so pleased with the growth of the program over these years,” he said. “In terms of special moments, I think this would be one of her most special moments.”

The Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015 will hold many special moments for the thousands of athletes and coaches descending on Los Angeles mid-summer. But rarely will those moments center on winning or race times. They’ll be about being in the moment — experiencing the grand stage. It’s something that San Fernando Valley-born Allen Wales, a Special Olympian and Global Messenger for the World Games Los Angeles 2015, said should be the participants’ main objective.

“Just have fun and experience what we have in Southern California,” he said, flashing a big smile.