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Keesler proud of its Olympians

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, MISS -- This weekend, Keesler andits airmen renew their ties with the community by hosting the 2008 Special Olympics of Mississippi. Members of the 81st Training Wing, the 403rd Wing, the 85th Engineering Installation Squadron and the 45th Airlift Squadron will once again join forces to host over 1,000 athletes as they demonstrate courage, strength, spirit and love on the field of play. 

For many of us, Keesler hosting the state games is a time-honored event eagerly awaited by all. For over 25 years, Keesler airmen have been instrumental in not only providing the venue for the state games, but also in providing logistical support, billeting and messing, medical assistance, judging and competition support, and a whole lot of hugs. 

This year will be no different as several hundred Keesler airmen will be helping under the leadership of Capt. Millie Ziebell, Jackie Pope, Tech. Sgt. Keith Trahan and Senior Airman Chris Freimann. 

Like the United States Air Force, the Special Olympics has a proud heritage. The concept for the Special Olympics came from Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver who, in the early 1960s, hosted a day camp for athletes with disabilities. 

The concept grew quickly and burst on to the international scene in 1968 with the inaugural International Special Olympics Games at Chicago's Soldier Field, where over 1,000 athletes from the United States and Canada participated in track and field as well as aquatic events. 

That same year, the first Special Olympics of Mississippi event was held at the University of Southern Mississippi with 150 athletes competing. This weekend, we carry forth that proud and honorable heritage. Special Olympics makes a huge difference for not only the athletes and families, but for those who participate as volunteers and sponsors. 

My first Special Olympics introduction was as a volunteer here at Keesler in 1984. Coming to the base that morning, I figured that the leaders would assign me a stop watch and a spreadsheet (back then we called it a blank piece of paper and pencil) and I would tally the results. Instead, I was told I was a hugger, which I wasn't quite sure I was cut out to do. Yet, after the first race, I was hooked for life. 

While I gave hugs and encouragement to the athletes in each races, they gave back much, much more. It became readily apparent to me that these athletes embody the very best of what we hope of our citizens. They compete not against each other, but against the challenge in front of them. They show their love for their sport and their fellow competitors. They run the race to the best of their ability and celebrate each and every accomplishment, no matter how great or how small; any accomplishment is a great stride forward. Their spirit, wisdom and accomplishment taught me a vital life lesson that I treasure; I was inspired by them then and remain so today. 

I'm delighted that Keesler will once again host the Special Olympics of Mississippi and extend a special welcome to the wonderful athletes and their families as well as the great volunteers from around the state that make this event possible. I hope you'll have a chance to come out this weekend to join us, if not to directly volunteer, to cheer on the athletes as they give their best. I think you too will be inspired by athletes who live by the oath, "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."