LA CRESCENTA — Whether they placed first or last, there was a smile on every face of the 300 athletes that traveled from all over Southern California to Crescenta Valley High Saturday to compete in the CV CAN Games, a Special Olympics qualifying event.
Olympic gold medalist and the third annual CV CAN Games Master of Ceremonies Rafer Johnson, who helped found the Special Olympics in California in 1969, said the most important thing about Saturday was giving the athletes the opportunity to compete.
"Winning is not the most important thing that happens on the field of competition, being the best you can be is," said Johnson, an Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon in 1960, in his opening speech. "You're not compared with anyone else, you're not trying to beat someone else in a sense, you're trying to be the best that you can be and whatever happens happens."
CV CAN, a non-profit community organization which was founded in 2003 and stands for Crescenta Valley Committed to Athletic Needs, gave Special Olympic athletes the chance to compete in a variety of walk, run, relay and wheelchair races and field events that included softball toss, long jump and shot put.
"The athletes train and they take this very serious, they have been working very hard to compete," said CV CAN Games Organizer Grace Chase. "For some of them this will be their first time and others it is something they have been doing for most of their life."
Michael Leon, a Glendale resident and Rosemont Middle School student, is only 14-years old, but he's already a three-year veteran of the Special Olympics and CV CAN Games with seven gold medals, each in different Special Olympic events, to his name.
"I want to win," said Leon, who was one of about 20 other Glendale residents to compete Saturday. "I've only got gold [medals]."
Saturday's first winner was Alan Fry, Jr., a 25-year old athlete from South Bay, in the 1,500-meter run, as he crossed the finish line in 5 minutes 56.41 seconds.
"It feels good [winning], I just want to try to do my best," Fry said. "This is my first time here at [CV CAN], it's good."
First, second or last place, everyone walked away with an award, and almost every athlete was paired up with a "buddy," as about 500 people volunteered — many of which were Crescenta Valley students — to help out, which included being paired with an athlete for the day.
The entire Falcons baseball team volunteered its time Saturday even after a Pacific League loss to Arcadia, 1-0, the night before.
"It's cool to see how happy they are," said the Falcons' Cameron Silva. "We take it for granted because we get to play sports all the time — it's like a job almost sometimes — but these guys just have fun doing it."
It's that kind of community the Falcons showed that the whole event is all about, Chase said.
"We have an opportunity to bring the community together and spend a wonderful day cheering on a very special group of people," Chase said. "We don't always have the opportunity to highlight this demographic in our population."