For Olympian Rafer Johnson, who helped establish Special Olympics events in California about four decades ago, the upcoming summer world games are more than about sports.
"It's really more than all of that. It's that families become closer, athletes become better, the community is involved," Johnson said before about 30 people at a press conference on Thursday announcing a partnership between the city of Glendale and the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games.
Glendale is one of 50 cities, so far, that have agreed to host athletes for the summer games. By next year, there may be as many as 100 cities from San Diego to San Luis Obispo to provide accommodations for the athletes.
Glendale has pledged $50,000 to host the athletes, but that cost can be backfilled by in-kind donations and sponsorships from community groups, officials have said.
As a host city, Glendale will provide a place for athletes to practice and rest before the games, which will take place at 27 venues in Los Angeles with opening ceremonies scheduled at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Special Olympics is set to bring 7,000 athletes with disabilities from 170 countries and an estimated 500,000 spectators, making it the largest sporting event to come to Los Angeles since the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.
Johnson lit the Olympic torch in 1984 and said after the partnership announcement that he'd be honored to light it once again for the Special Olympics.
"Of course I'd want to and I'd be ready," the 78-year-old said.
The games aim to promote awareness, acceptance and inclusion. However, for Debi Anderson, a Special Olympics athlete, her participation has also upped her confidence.
"They have taught me that nothing is impossible," said the 36-year-old gymnast from Placentia before the press conference. "I've done things I've never dreamed of doing."
When she was a child, Anderson was diagnosed with a communicative disability, but since participating in Special Olympics events, she has honed her language skills. She is now a global messenger for the organization and has traveled as far as South Korea to speak on behalf of the games.
For many of the athletes, the summer world games next year will be their first experience in the United States. City officials plan to show off Glendale's highlights to the athletes, including the Americana at Brand, Glendale Galleria and Disney's Creative Campus.
"This is an opportunity that we're honored to have," said Mayor Zareh Sinanyan.