WESTWOOD—The UCLA marching band and spirit squad members welcomed the athletes of the 2015 Special Olympic World Games to Westwood on July 23. Twenty runners, including athletes and law enforcement officials passed the torch in Westwood, while roughly 200 spectators enjoyed the event.

Runners ran through Westwood Boulevard and down to Kinross Avenue, where UCLA students, faculty and city officials welcomed them to Westwood Village. They carried the torch to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the flame was lit during the Opening Ceremonies.

Bill Roth, UCLA’s new play-by-play announcer gave the opening remarks at the UCLA event. “This week, over 6,500 athletes from 165 countries have descended upon Los Angeles to show the true meaning of courage and joy and determination,” he said.

During the ceremony, Rafer Johnson, a UCLA alumnus and founder of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors who helped bring the Special Olympic World Games to California, said that this event helps spread the word about people with disabilities and the things that they are capable of. Johnson also said that ever since he became a part of the Games during the 1960s, he’s seen athletes become better and better, rising to the level of others around the world.

Rafer Johnson, UCLA alum and Special Olympics Gold Medalist.
Rafer Johnson, UCLA alum and Special Olympics Gold Medalist.

In a video on the UCLA YouTube channel, Johnson said that he had won a gold medal in 1960 because of the help he got from others, and is now paying it forward. “People are going to be much more strongly touched by what Special Olympics is all about,” he said.

The Special Olympics will bring half a million people to California this year. There are 19 venues hosting athletes, eight of which will be offered by UCLA. Other venues include the University of Southern California, the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, Wilson/Harding Golf Courses, among others. UCLA will also be providing housing for nearly half of 7,000 athletes.

UCLA officials are expecting more traffic in and around the UCLA area. There are two construction projects in Westwood, one on Strathmore Drive and the other one on Sunset Boulevard and Hilgard Avenue, both of which will contribute to an increase in both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. UCLA transportation has advised guests to take buses or carpool, spokeswoman Alison Hewitt told the Daily Bruin.

The closing ceremonies for the Special Olympics World Games will take place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday at 6 p.m.