(NEW YORK) — The Olympic torch was lit in Athens and arrived in Berlin for the nation’s first-ever hosting of the Special Olympics World Games where exceptional, inspiring athletes and volunteers have gathered from all over the world to go for gold.
ABC News’ Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts traveled to Germany, ahead of Saturday’s opening ceremony, where nearly 7,000 competitors representing 190 countries for 26 sports have come together to show off their skills.
Special Olympics legend and Chief Inspiration Officer Loretta Claiborne from York, Pennsylvania, trained hard to compete on the global stage.
“Forget being on top of the world. I was up on the moon. I was in the galaxy,” she told Good Morning America of the moment she got the call for the games. “I didn’t think they would choose somebody my age.”
Claiborne, who was born partially blind and unable to walk or talk until age 4, defied the odds as an accomplished runner and has found great purpose through movement. Berlin will mark her ninth World Games and her first competing in tennis.
“I was told I wasn’t going to make it this long in my life,” she said adding, “I think sport has a lot to do with it — mentally and physically.”
She continued, “I’m going to be 70 years old — but I’m going to give it my all whether I win the match or whether I lose. I’ve already won with the opportunity to be able to play.”
Other athletes representing the red, white and blue include The City Hawks, a unified soccer team from New York City.
Joe Stewart, the team’s assistant coach, told GMA, “We want to show that people with intellectual disabilities deserve to play sports that they love side by side with their peers without intellectual disabilities and they’re capable of doing so.”
Unified sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team with a mission of social inclusion.
‘When you watch the City Hawks play, you just see soccer players on the field,” Stewart said. “Everybody has a role, everybody contributes.”
Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, and Claiborne joined Roberts live on Good Morning America Friday morning ahead of the games to discuss what it’s like being in a city known for breaking down walls and overcoming borders for this incredible event.
Claiborne, USA Today’s Woman of the Year and a recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN, has been part of the Special Olympics since 1970 and is again sharing her passion with more athletes.
“You are who you are, but you can be the best of who you are. That’s what I would tell a young [Loretta] today,” she said. “It’s not how much you have, it’s what you have and how you use it.”
Claiborne said she wants to continue helping people with intellectual and physical disabilities succeed and advises them to, “find an opportunity and seize it, be the best you can be, and never let anyone doubt you.”
Having previously competed as a runner and a figure skater, she is tackling a new event at nearly 70 years old with tennis.
She shared her motto that has kept her going and fired up through the years of athletic accomplishment: “God is my strength, Special Olympics is my joy. That’s what I have on my cross that I always wear — because you can’t do [anything] without God and my joy is Special Olympics.”
Claiborne also shared an example when she fell down and thought, “Faith is taking the first step even though you don’t see the whole staircase — I didn’t see that whole staircase [when I fell], but I had faith to get up and keep doing it.”
The global event was founded by Shriver’s mother, Eunice Shriver Kennedy. Its mission of inclusion, embracing those with a different story and of celebration, has a message for everyone.
“In the world, most of us see through hierarchies,” he said, citing categories like intelligence or wealth. “It’s a big cancer in human life. It invariably leads us to miss what’s going on beneath the surface. My mom saw beyond the appearance, beyond the label, beyond the stigma. That came from her sister. She grew up loving someone that the world didn’t. If you grow up that way, you have to learn how to see beyond what the world sees. You have to learn that the judgments of the world are not true, that they’re a distortion.”
The Special Olympics will run from June 17 through June 25 in Berlin.
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