By Carla Davis
On Friday evening, Aug. 5, the Lakeshore Foundation is kicking off the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics with the Night of Champions, a celebration aimed at building momentum and excitement for the games in Rio de Janeiro. As an official U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) training center, Lakeshore is the ideal venue for experiencing the games.
Part of the Lakeshore to Rio initiative, the event will honor the athletic prowess of local Olympians and Paralympians, and help raise community awareness about the facility’s state-of-the-art adaptive sports and fitness programs for people with disabilities. Then, on Sept. 10, Lakeshore will open its doors once again for a free family festival to help kick off the Rio Paralympic Games.
“Lakeshore is all about getting people, particularly people with physical disabilities, active in fitness, sports and recreation,” said Patti Lovoy, director of development for Lakeshore Foundation. “These events allow us to shine a light on how we can help people accomplish their dreams through sports.”
The Night of Champions will also recognize two turning points that brought Birmingham to the fore in the international sports world and forged the city’s unbreakable connection with the Olympic Games. This year marks 40 years since Jennifer Chandler Stevenson won the gold in springboard diving in the Montreal Olympics and 20 years since Olympic soccer came to Birmingham.
“When we hosted Olympic soccer 20 years ago, that allowed Birmingham to step up and be recognized internationally,” said Chandler Stevenson, development and special events coordinator, Lakeshore Foundation. “We couldn’t have had Indy racing or the Davis Cup without that first event. And every time we host another international sporting event, we prove that this community will support whatever comes here.”
During the evening, coaches and athletes will join ticketholders to watch a multiscreen broadcast of the opening ceremony live from Rio, while enjoying a Brazilian-themed dinner. The event, which begins at 7 p.m., will help raise funds for Lakeshore’s adaptive sports and fitness programs.
Lakeshore will then host a free family festival on Saturday, Sept. 10 – several days after the opening ceremony of the Rio Paralympics. Adults and kids alike will get to experience Paralympic sporting events, meet Olympic and Paralympic athletes, enjoy Brazilian music and dancing, and get a taste of Brazilian culture.
The event from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. will feature the Team USA Road to Rio Tour sponsored by Liberty Mutual. This official USOC touring roadshow is a collection of interactive exhibits that allow people to try Paralympic sporting events and experience their own Olympic moments. Green-screen technology will give fans the “feel” of competing in events, such as diving, beach volleyball or gymnastics.
“It will give you a great appreciation for how awesome these Paralympic athletes really are,” Chandler Stevenson said. “It’s a unique opportunity for us to showcase the talent that comes to train here. There is no other place like Lakeshore.”
Two years ago, Lakeshore Foundation began rallying to convince the USOC to add Birmingham to the 2016 Road to Rio tour following the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
On the day of the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games, Lakeshore celebrated by inviting people to it first family festival. Thousands turned out to watch the opening ceremony on giant screens and tried their hands at adaptive sporting events. The festival included portions of the Spirit of Sochi Tour, the Team USA exhibits that had been traveling the nation leading up to the Winter Games.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Chandler Stevenson. “But 2,500 people came out here in four hours. We were really proud of that. We earned the right for the official Road to Rio Tour to come to Lakeshore, based on what happened here two years ago.”
Lakeshore will be the final stop on the Road to Rio nine-city tour and the only stop in the Southeast.
“Our goals through these events are to elevate the community’s excitement about the power of sports and help people see that everybody can compete in sports, whether they have a physical disability or not,” said Lovoy. “The family festival is a way for us to give something back to the community. It will give people a chance to touch and feel what it means to be a part of Paralympic sports.”
For more information about the family festival on Sept. 10, check out www.lakeshore.org. Admission to the festival is free.
To purchase tickets for the Night of Champions, visit the Lakeshore Foundation website or contact Jennifer Chandler Stevenson at 205-313-7436 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets are $100 for an individual and $150 for a pair.