Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Two Rockville residents return with medals from Special Olympics

E-mail this article \ Print this article

The 2008 Olympic Games in China this summer are being anticipated as a world-changing event that will break down barriers, blend cultures and expose people across the globe to our planet’s most populated country.

For two sailors from Rockville, the global phenomenon can be summed up: Been there, done that.

In October, Yuan-Yin ‘‘Joe” Wu, 45, born with a learning disability, and Megan Cooper, 24, born with Down syndrome, took their sailing abilities to the Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai, China, where they brought home medals for the United States while enjoying some Chinese hospitality.

‘‘It rained a little bit. I liked the water. I liked the food,” Cooper said, recalling her experiences. ‘‘I got a bronze [medal]. It was pretty good.”

Wu and Cooper, along with their partners who assisted them during the competition, were four of 10 athletes from Maryland who attended the games. They were the only athletes from Montgomery County.

‘‘We visited schools over there and some family houses,” Wu said.‘‘[We] learned the culture.”

Yates Dowell, Wu’s partner, said all of the U.S. athletes stayed together in a hotel and were taken each day, by sport, to various places around the Shanghai district. The process was the Special Olympics’ ‘‘Host Town Program,” a four-day event in which the athletes visited homes, schools and businesses to ‘‘exchange” culture.

Dowell said the sailors and gymnasts stayed in the Gaodong district, where they were greeted with a welcoming ceremony that included dancing, speeches by the district’s delegation and other acts of inclusion for the athletes.

Wu, who moved with his family to Maryland from Taiwan in 1977, was asked at the end of the welcoming ceremony to address the crowd. He did so, speaking in the native language, and Dowell said many of the people were ‘‘floored” that an American was speaking to them in Chinese.

Jason Schriml, senior director for coaches’ education and training for Special Olympics who accompanied the Maryland athletes, said the opening ceremony was held in Shanghai Stadium in front of more than 80,000 people and rivaled that of any other Olympic games.