Special Olympics return in-person to Chicago's Soldier Field after 2-year pandemic absence

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There were plenty of cheers as Special Olympics athletes paraded onto Soldier Field for opening ceremonies in Chicago Thursday.

After two years of alternative competition due to the pandemic, Chicagoans with special needs can take part in person this year. Among the teams competing is the McGuane Park Magic.

"I really missed it, but now I'm really glad we have the Special Olympics now," Special Olympian Julie Briones said.

"This means everything to our athletes in Chicago," said Kate Grant, special recreation coordinator for McGuane Park Magic. "However, to be back in person and to experience it all together is very special."

Davion Anderson is a gold medal Olympian from the Winter Special Olympics. Next week, he will compete in the 100-meter and standing long jump representing Northside Learning Center High School.

"We see some friends, and have fun and do a lot of things," Anderson said.

"They finally get that interaction, social interaction, getting out of the house, being able to just live life once again," said Shahenaz Abdelrahim, athletic director at Northside Learning Center. "It's just an amazing thing for them."

Special Olympics Chicago founder Anne Burke organized the first games in 1965 in West Pullman Park.

"Our job is to make sure everybody feels good about themselves," Burke said. "It's important so they can go on to do other things, and be encouraged."

Olympians carried the flame into Soldier Field with cheers from the crowd. The eternal flaming burning in Soldier Field is a symbol the games are officially open.

The competitions start next week.
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