Special athletes from across the country will be making their way to New Jersey on Sunday for the start of the 2014 Special Olympics USA.


Special Olympics World Summer Games - Day Three
Vladimir Rys, Getty Images

Governor Christie will salute the 3,500 competitors during opening ceremonies on June 15 at the Prudential Center in Newark where the "Flame of Hope" will light the cauldron of the games.  The athletes will be joined by 1,000 coaches and delegates, 70,000 family members and spectators, and more than 12,000 volunteers.

The majority of the games will be held in Mercer County at Princeton University, Rider University, The College of New Jersey, Peddie, Hun and Lawrenceville schools  Events will also be held at Mercer County parks and Brunswick Zone bowling.  Sporting events will include aquatics, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, flag football, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball.

"The Special Olympics is a worldwide movement that provides sports training and competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities, but we take that classification and push it aside because they are really athletes.  They are individuals who train and excel in sports and look to be recognized for those efforts," said Marc Edenzon, president and CEO of Special Olympics New Jersey.  "We find that this fraternity of sport welcomes our athletes and we find that it's the best opportunity for them to be recognized, welcomed and accepted in their communities."

The Special Olympics World Games are nearly 50 years old, but this is only the third nationwide USA Games.  The idea was the brainchild of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of late President John F. Kennedy.  Shriver would invite children with intellectual disabilities to come and play on her Maryland farm in a program she called Camp Shriver.

The first International Special Olympics were held in 1968 in Chicago.  The first USA Games were held in Iowa in 2006 and again in Nebraska in 2010.  This is the first time the USA Games are being held on the East Coast.

"This is the pinnacle of all of their efforts over the years to train and then to demonstrate their skills on a national showcase.  The most remarkable part of it is looking at the parents who really never may have imagined that their son or daughter was going to be able to compete in sport, no less excel in sport and then be on a national stage," Edenzon said.

The event will continue through June 21.

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