LOS ANGELES -- As Anwar Smaka, 13, stood on the podium to receive his first of two gold medals in roller-skating at the Special Olympic World Games, he said it was the first time in his life that he felt valuable.
"When everyone clapped for me, I felt like the champion of the world," Smaka said.
Life has not been easy for Smaka and his family. He lives lives in a southern suburb of Damascus, Syria, with his parents, two younger sisters and an older brother. In May, his father was inside the family home when it was destroyed by a rocket. His father survived, but is still hospitalized. While Smaka was fleeing with his mother and his siblings, he tripped and fell and suffered a black eye that required medical attention.
The journey to Los Angeles was difficult as well. The Syrian team had visa complications, nearly derailing their trip. Additionally, Smaka's luggage got lost on the way to Los Angeles. He did not have any equipment to compete, but Heather Lacayo-Nease, the manager of the roller-skating competition, arranged for him to get a helmet and skates.
None of that dampened the young Syrian's enthusiasm and spirit. We followed Smaka, his coach and teacher Dana Shubat and the Syrian team as they competed in the World Games.