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Athletes, Vandenberg win at Special Olympics

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Airmen from the 30th Security Forces Squadron run a torch to the 2009 Special Olympics held at the base track April 25. During the event's opening ceremonies, the torch was carried from Vandenberg's main gate to the base track to kick off the day’s events presented by Northern Santa Barbara County. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Airmen from the 30th Security Forces Squadron run a torch to the 2009 Special Olympics held at the base track April 25. During the event's opening ceremonies, the torch was carried from Vandenberg's main gate to the base track to kick off the day’s events presented by Northern Santa Barbara County. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Monique Ontiveros, a Special Olympian from Santa Barbara County, sprints during a 200-meter dash at the base track here April 25. Airmen from Vandenberg helped set up the event and escorted the competitors throughout the day. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Monique Ontiveros, a Special Olympian from Santa Barbara County, sprints during a 200-meter dash at the base track here April 25. Airmen from Vandenberg helped set up the event and escorted the competitors throughout the day. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Matthew Pearson, a Special Olympian from Santa Barbara, sprints toward the finish line at the base track here April 25. Vandenberg Airmen and civilians volunteered their time and effort to make the event possible. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Matthew Pearson, a Special Olympian from Santa Barbara, sprints toward the finish line at the base track here April 25. Vandenberg Airmen and civilians volunteered their time and effort to make the event possible. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg hosted the 21st Annual Special Olympics presented by Northern Santa Barbara County at 9 a.m. April 25 at the base track.

The 2009 Harry Wood Area Games opening ceremony officially began as a group of Airmen from the 30th Security Forces Squadron, running in formation, brought a torch in from Vandenberg's main gate to the base track for the Special Olympics torch lighting ceremony.

Following the torch lighting, Col. Steven Winters, the 30th Space Wing vice commander, welcomed all of the athletes and guests to Vandenberg before beginning the day's events.

The athletes participated in both track and field events including the 50-, 100-, 200- and 400-meter walk and run dash, shot put, softball throw, running long jump and the standing long jump.

"Vandenberg has been a major player in the Special Olympics this year," said Wesley Maroney, a Special Olympics coordinator and retired lieutenant from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office. "Without Vandenberg, we would not be able to put this on with the same amount of success."

Hundreds of Vandenberg Airmen and civilians volunteered their time to escort approximately 80 athletes, making the event a success.

"I became a volunteer based on the belief that when given the chance, anyone can be an athlete," said Tyre Washington, a 381st Training Group student. "I think everybody had fun and went home feeling as though they did their best."

Athletes from all over Santa Barbara County participated in the event. Lompoc, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria, Orcutt and Guadalupe were the major contributing cities.

"Vandenberg takes advantage of any opportunity to help others and give back to the community," said Capt. Aaron Basham, Vandenberg's Special Olympics event coordinator. "In addition to training and spending time with their family and friends, the Olympians got the opportunity to engage with the Air Force family of Vandenberg."

Once the last event was held, the closing ceremonies began. The athletes and escorts gathered at the center of the field where ribbons were given to all the participants.

"It's nice to see how a community can come together and support a good cause like Special Olympics," said Brian Zepeda, the Special Olympics sports coordinator from Santa Maria. "It's rewarding to see the smiles on our athletes' faces when they get the opportunity to compete. Attending a Special Olympic event is truly a life changing experience. It is here you see the true meaning of sportsmanship and effort."