June 17, 1984

Thank you, Fran. Governor Cuomo, Senator D'Amato, the Representatives here -- Lent and McGrath and Mrazek -- ladies and gentlemen and honored athletes:

Today we mark a dramatic and meaningful event, the opening of the 1984 International Games for the Disabled. The first games took place in Canada in 1976, the second in 1980 in Holland. This year, it is America's turn to host disabled athletes from around the world. I know I speak for the American people when I say that this is a great honor for our country.

The setting for the games could hardly be more spectacular. The new Mitchell Park Athletic Complex features superb facilities for competitors and spectators alike, including one of the finest tracks in the world. Nearby schools like Hofstra University and Nassau Community College are providing sites for a number of competitions and housing hundreds of the athletes. Scores of individuals and businesses have been generous in sponsoring these games. Thousands of volunteers have already been at work for months coordinating events and helping with athletes' travel arrangements.

As the games themselves take place, the volunteers will work even harder, keeping score, looking after equipment, helping to provide medical attention, and translating for competitors who speak a dozen foreign languages. As far as I can see, just about everybody in Nassau County has lent a hand.

I know that you're in for a glorious time, and I want to thank you for all your hard work and dedication. Yet all of us agree that these games belong to one group alone -- the athletes.

Nearly two thousand of you have come here today from some 54 countries. From Africa, Europe, Australia, South America, Asia, and North America, you have gathered here, a group of indomitable men and women. During the next 2 weeks, you'll test your endurance in swimming and running. You'll prove your strength in weightlifting. You'll show your speed and agility in basketball and high jumping. And in the equestrian events, you'll show the beautiful teamwork that can take place between man or woman and horse.

Sports have always been an important part of my life. As a matter of fact, I just was reminded as I sat down here that Fran and I played against each other during World War II, on a couple of Army teams -- basketball teams -- back in 1944. I don't mind telling you -- his team won. [Laughter]

I think I can appreciate -- and I know he can, at least a little -- what these games must mean to you. There will be the comradery of teamwork, the thrill of competition, the sheer joy of meeting other athletes who love the sport as much as you do. Roger Bannister, the first runner in history to break the 4-minute mile, once said, "Running has given me a glimpse of the greatest freedom that a man can ever know, because it results in the simultaneous liberation of both body and mind.'' Exhilaration of mind and body, that's something that all athletes understand. Yet there's something each of you understands that no one else can ever fully appreciate, something that has to do with courage, with willpower, and with the utter refusal to give up that has enabled you to rise above your disabilities and compete.

Each of you is a remarkable person, a person like Canadian Arnie Boldt. Arnie lost one leg above the knee, but when he high jumps, he can take his body farther into the air than most people are tall. Trischa Zorn, of Mission Viejo, California, is legally blind. But that didn't keep her from winning an athletic scholarship to the University of Nebraska and becoming one of the fastest backstroke swimmers in the world. Harri Juahiainew of Finland is an amputee, but he can run 400 meters in less than 50 seconds. And then there's Charlie Reid. Charlie works out twice a week with the New York Knights, a sports group run by United Cerebral Palsy of New York City. Today, Charlie can bench press 480 pounds, 2 1/2 times his own weight and there's a good chance that at these games, Charlie will set a new world record.

By competing in these games, each of you is sending a message of hope throughout the world. You're proving that a disability doesn't have to stand in the way of a full and active life, and you're showing all of us just how far a man or woman can go if only they have the dedication and the will.

A month after these games end, another great sporting event will begin, the Olympic games in Los Angeles. Athletes from all over the world will gather for those games just as you've gathered here today. Those athletes may post faster times or lift heavier weights, but sports has less to do with things like times and weights and distances than with something very simple, the human heart. And when it comes to that, the athletes in Los Angeles will have to tip their hats to you, because you are the champions of the world.

And now it is my honor to declare the 1984 International Games for the Disabled officially open.

Thank you, and God bless you all. Thank you. Begin the games.

Note: The President spoke at 4:26 p.m. at Mitchell Park Field. He was introduced by Francis T. Purcell, county executive of Nassau County.

Following his appearance at the games, the President returned to Washington, DC.