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Pre-Special Olympics Celebration Kicks Off in Raleigh

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RALEIGH — Nearly 400,000 people from 150 countries are expected to attend the Special Olympics World Games next year. That takes a lot of preparation. It's been ongoing since Raleigh was selected as the site, but now it's time for the final push, and that began Thursday afternoon.

The games will be the biggest sporting event in the world. This time next year, the Triangle will host the games themselves. Thursday, downtown Raleigh hosted a kick-off for the one-year countdown on the Fayetteville Street Mall.

Organizers, trying to launch excitement about the games, are initiating a push for the many volunteers who will be needed to pull off the massive event. A total of 35,000 volunteers will be needed for the events, and time was set aside for sign-up Thursday at noon.

Dr. Leroy Walker, President of the event, kicked off Thursday's celebration saying the games will be here before you know it.

"From this day on, it's engineering. It's putting it to work," said Walker. "That's why it's so important to get them to feel that a year's time is not very long."

Loretta Claiborne knows what it's like to compete in the games.

"It's the high of my life," said the former Special Olympian. "If you ever have a high, come to the Special Olympics and I know it's been everything to me, other than God and my family. I say God is my strength, Special Olympics is my joy. And boy! Has it been a joy!"

Major sponsors of the event, such as Glaxo-Wellcome, are offering incentives to their employees for volunteering their time. Each Glaxo worker who volunteers will receive a commemorative t-shirt and, possibly, a day off from work.

"It's one thing to cut a check to support something like this," said Bill Shore of Glaxo's public affairs office. "It's much more important, I think, for employees to be involved. That's where the strength of a company like Glaxo-Wellcome is because we put so much emphasis on employee involvement."

As for the employees themselves, they say what they get out of volunteering on a personal level makes it all worthwhile.

"It's working with children with disabilities, and adults as well -- any Special Olympics athlete," said volunteer Judy Stotler. "It gives you that opportunity to see what they can accomplish and help them celebrate in that."

Dr. Leroy Walker, president of the Special Olympic World Games, signed an "invitation to the world" that will go out to the 7,000 athletes who are expected to attend next year.

The Raleigh kick-off was expected to last until 2 p.m. Thursday then resume at 6:30 with the Live After Five festivities.

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Lynda Loveland, Reporter
Joe Frieda, Photographer
MJ Ainsley, Web Editor

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