The 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games ended in Shanghai a week ago, but its rich legacy will last for many years to come.
It is a legacy of love and caring as 40,000 volunteers and more than 100,000 community workers, family members and hotel staff in the city served wholeheartedly for delegations from more than 160 countries and regions during the two-week event.
It is a legacy of the dignity and spirit displayed by the athletes as they ran to the finish line and exhibited superb gymnastic skills well beyond the ability of most people. Few people in China had the opportunity to understand this special group of people before these games.
More importantly, the Special Olympics has helped rekindle hope for mentally challenged people - 10 million in China and 170 million globally - and their families. In the past, their lives were often shadowed by disabilities and they were very much neglected by society as a whole.
The Special Olympics would not have succeeded without the selfless dedication of the volunteers.
Many of these volunteers spent their valuable time during the National Day holiday week traveling across the city, working 12-hours day and caring for the athletes. On average, there were four volunteers taking care of one athlete.
If you still bemoan the lack of volunteerism in China, you should probably think again. The nascent volunteer movement is growing rapidly, at least in Shanghai.
College students, who made up 70 percent of the Special Olympics volunteers, deserve our praise.
Born in the 1980s, they are often accused of being a spoiled, immature and self-centered generation, lacking team spirit and collapsing easily under pressure.
But these allegations are groundless based on the many moving stories about volunteers and the praise they received from Special Olympics officials, coaches, athletes and their families.
The tears in the eyes of many volunteers when athletes departed to their home countries after the games was also proof of the special bonds built during the short period.
Many volunteers feel that their hard work is truly worthwhile. They treasure the experience because it helps them grow to be more responsible members of the society.
In fact, that kind of gratitude is owed by society as a whole. The Special Olympics has given everyone a rare education in love and care as well as the Special Olympics' spirit of equality, acceptance and tolerance.
Shanghai was immersed in a mood of warmth, love and care during those two weeks.
China, with its 1,200-member delegation, the largest at the games, bagged more gold medals than any other country. But the Special Olympics is probably the only sporting event in the world where breaking world records and winning gold medals is secondary to participation. It is an event about demonstrating a spirit of courage, sharing, skill and joy.
In the Special Olympics, every athlete is a winner. Their strength and perseverance deserves the audience's loudest cheers.
A great many more moving stories came from these athletes, who have displayed the strongest and most touching spirit of mankind.
This spirit will surely empower millions of mentally challenged people in China and the world to be strong and upbeat throughout their lives. This spirit will also teach people to show more respect and care to this underprivileged group.
The Special Olympics have also provided Shanghainese with a chance to present their new look, after a 16 year economic boom.
Long known for regarding non-locals as country bumpkins, Shanghainese resurrected their image by showing the world that they are caring and accepting, opening their arms to embrace people from all over the world.
The 2007 Special Olympics was truly a great success. It accomplished feats impossible in other sporting events. It certainly deserved that fantastic opening ceremony.
Many people have become deeply disappointed in the lack of spirit of love and care in many parts of today's society, as the country has been focused on becoming rich in the last three decades.
If the Special Olympics can serve as a wake up call for the return of this spirit, it is at least as important as the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics.
(China Daily October 20, 2007)