The Special Olympics builds community over competition

2015 Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles ESPN Stevie Wonder

Luke Rose and his family holds up the Circle of Inclusion, the symbol for the Special Olympics World Games. Photo: Luke Rose Family

Luke Rose is a 20-year-old upcoming swimmer from Northridge, California preparing to compete for his first time against 7,000 international athletes representing 177 countries at the pinnacle of his sporting world.

He’ll be swimming in an event set to draw as many as 500,000 visitors to Los Angeles, which will be broadcasted worldwide on ESPN. And yet, he’s not nervous at all.

“Nope, I’m not nervous before I swim,” Rose told GrindTV. “Swimming is fun and exciting. I feel more joyful when I’m swimming. It’s my favorite part of the day. ”

If he doesn’t sound like your average Olympic hopeful, it’s because he isn’t: Rose is a swimmer with autism, and he’s preparing to compete in the 2015 Special Olympic World Games, an event based less on competition than on acceptance and, most importantly, fun.

“It really is such a unique event, and it’s such a different experience from when you go to a regular sporting event because you don't have favorites,” Rose’s father, Ted, told GrindTV. “You really want everyone to do well at the Special Olympics. It’s funny, because sometimes in the middle of an event, say a race, an athlete might stop running for any number of reasons and you might see other competitors go back and help them finish.”

Ted and his wife, Ellen, both agree that the true spirit of the games is in the camaraderie fostered between the athletes and their families, and in helping introduce the athletes to new friends across the globe, a sentiment that their son shares.

“My favorite part of the Special Olympics is meeting people from different countries,” Rose said. “Now I have friends from Mexico, Germany, Ireland and Japan. I wish I could go visit those places too; I’ve never been out of the country before, but some day I will.”

Los Angeles Special Olympics 2015 World Games ESPN Stevie Wonder

Luke Rose poses with Japans Yuko Arimori, the silver medalist in the 1992 Summer Olympic games, who was his relay partner for the LA Marathon. Photo: Luke Rose Family

And while the games are all about fun, make no mistake, Rose is training to win.

“We’ve definitely seen Luke up the ante in his preparation and training for the World Games,” Ted said. “He’s training harder, and what’s great is that it has increased his independence and made him more mature. Now, even if me or Ellen aren’t able to take him, he’ll ride the bus to our local pool alone to practice.”

RELATED: Hannah Teter wants a Special Olympics event at X-Games

Rose, who will swim in the 50 meter freestyle and 50 meter backstroke events, admits he has taken his training up a notch.

“I think I can win the freestyle. I’m training five days a week to compete, and I also like doing yoga and hiking to exercise,” said Rose, who lists Rocky Peak and Mount Lowe as his favorite hikes in Southern California. “My favorite is when I can do all three in the same day, because that helps my breathing and makes me swim faster.”

As for his plans to continue competing in future Special Olympics, which features a range of competitor ages all the way up to senior citizens, Rose says he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“I wanna keep swimming and competing in the Special Olympics until I’m around 55 years old,” he said. “I want to work in swimming and teach others how to swim.”

The 2015 Special Olympics World Games, which independently raised $60 million to cover the costs of supporting the 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches in Los Angeles, will begin on July 25 and run through Aug. 2. The opening ceremony on July 25 will be held at the historic Los Angeles Coliseum and feature a performance by musical legend Stevie Wonder, among other performers.

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