Every year hundreds of athletes and artists with special needs gather at Kadena Air Base to enjoy the sports and art they love.
For a young, smiling, Marlee McDaniel, daughter of the 18th Wing vice commander, this is her first year competing in the Kadena Special Olympics.
“This is emotional for us. We’ve shied away in the past to protect her,” said Col. Brain McDaniel, Marlee’s dad. “But they say, ‘If I can’t win let me be brave.’”
Marlee has Down syndrome, a genetic condition where a person has an extra chromosome; this causes problems with the way the body and brain develop.
“This does not affect my military career,” the father said. “We are part of an exceptional family member program and before every (permanent change of duty station) we make sure we have everything we need for Marlee. ”
The 7-year-old loves to swim and run everywhere. She also takes tennis and ballet lessons and during KSO she competed in the 30-meter dash, tennis skills and the softball throw, even through the rain.
“I think people have a misconception about special needs kids,” said Deborah McDaniel, Marlee’s mom. “They are just like any other child, and they just want to be part of a group or part of a team. People just need to give them that chance.”
Throughout the years, Special Olympic events have done just that, give special-needs children a chance to be a part of something with others they can relate to.
As Marlee competed in events throughout the day she ran with enthusiasm, interacted with volunteers, athletes and artists with charm and demonstrated the courage to others that may be still too timid to participate in these types of events.