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Big Island Represented at Special Olympics World Games

July 22, 2015, 5:15 PM HST
* Updated July 22, 5:21 PM
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Over 6,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities from around the world have descended on Los Angeles, Calif. for the 14th Special Olympics World Games, which start on Saturday.

The United States is just one of 170 countries that are participating in this year’s games. Team USA will feature three competitors from Hawai’i, including Kona’s Isaiah Wong, who will compete in powerlifting.

Wong started working with Denise Lindsey, a long time coach with Special Olympics Hawai’i and one of the powerlifting coaches for the United States at the World Games, when he was 16 years old, the earliest he could participate in the sport.

“He came to me at 16, and of course, he showed some strength. I saw really good potential there,” Lindsey recalled. “Within a few years, I said that if this guy doesn’t get accepted for the World Games, there’s something wrong.”

This year’s Special Olympics World Games will be the first for Wong, a six-year veteran of the Special Olympics program. Special Olympics Hawai’i did not receive a lottery spot for powerlifting four years ago, when the World Games were held in Greece. The lottery ticket came around this year, giving Wong and his coach a chance to compete with the rest of the world.

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Wong has never competed at the national level, but has succeeded at the state level with numerous gold medals. While the stage is much bigger than any he has competed on, his coach believes that he can be right there with the world’s best.

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“I just bow down to him. His strength and his power is bar none. It’s top notch,” Lindsey explained. “He’s got it. He just has to listen, because it is all technical. It’s not just about being able to lift. Thee are so much technicalities that go into powerlifting. You have to go parallel on your squats. You have to listen to all of the commands. If you flinch once, that’s it. You get red lighted. It is very, very strict on the world level, and this is going to be an eye-opener for him.”

For Lindsey, who has spent nearly 20 years actively helping with Special Olympics Hawai’i, this is only her second trip to the Summer World Games. She last attended with the United States delegation in 2007 when the games were held in Shanghai, China. Recognition and awareness for these athletes has grown since then, but this year’s games hold a special meaning on American soil.

“There are thousands of volunteers that are for the United States [this year]. so it’s so cool when you have that uplift,” she explained. “In China, it was just us and you’re in your own sport mode and if a family member came, you had maybe five [people] rooting for you.”

From l-r: Ikaika Morita-Sunada, Chaunci Cummings, and Isaiah Wong. Photo credit: Special Olympics Hawai'i.

From l-r: Ikaika Morita-Sunada, Chaunci Cummings, and Isaiah Wong. Photo credit: Special Olympics Hawai’i.

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Joining Wong from Hawai’i are two other athletes who will compete in different events. Chaunci Cummings, a student at Kapa’a High School, will compete in track and field. The Kapa’a native has participated in Special Olympics for three years.

Rounding out the Hawai’i delegation is Ikaika Morita-Sunada, an 18-year veteran of Special Olympics. He will compete in aquatics.

Local Special Olympics representatives will also lend their support to the United States during the trip. Dan Epstein, Special Olympics Hawai’i vice president of sports, is working with Special Olympics USA as its director of sports managers. Joining him will be Nip Ho, Special Olympics Hawai’i’s vice president of area services. She will oversee participation in bocce.

This is the second time that Los Angeles has hosted the Summer Special Olympics World Games. In 1972, the third edition of the games were held in Los Angeles, and the games were exclusively held in the United States until 2003, when Dublin, Ireland was selected to host the event.

With the World Games returning to the U.S. for the first time since 1999, the amount of coverage given to the event has grown. ESPN has committed to nightly coverage of the event, beginning with a countdown show on July 23. Nightly shows, featuring highlights and stories, will air at 1 p.m. beginning July 26 on either ESPN or ESPN2.

The Special Olympics World Games LA2015 Opening Ceremony will be held on July 25 at 3 p.m. It will be televised on ESPN and simulcast on ESPN Radio stations KHLO-AM 850 and KKON-AM 790.

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