NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — More than 18,000 people attended opening ceremonies Sunday for the Special Olympics in New Jersey – in the start of a competition of nearly 3,500 athletes.

The opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics USA Games were held at the Prudential Center in Newark. As WCBS 880’s Monica Miller reported, more than 18,000 people were in attendance for the torch lighting, including athletes, coaches, and family members.

READ MORE: Suffolk County Police Officer Timothy Thrane Released From Hospital 1 Month After Being Hit By Alleged Drunk Driver

Members of the Alabama softball team could hardly contain themselves as they entered the arena. They said their one goal this week is to win.

Their head coach, Bobbi Cesna, said the softball team members had trained for years to get to this moment.

“It’s going to be awesome just to see – because I’m so used to just Alabama, the state, and the games there – and just all over the nation, it’s just awesome,” she said.

T.J. Nelligan, the 2014 U.S.A. Games chairman and chief executive officer, is a Hoboken resident who has a son with special needs. He said the Special Olympics are also a special event for many family members.

“While it may not have been the road we chose, it has become an amazing ride down a different path,” Nelligan said at the ceremony.

The opening ceremony was hosted by actress and model Brooklyn Decker and NBA rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams. Also set to make appearances are actress Jane Lynch, WWE wrestlers Big Show and David Otunga, TV personality Jack Ford and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Lori Black and her family came from Wisconsin to cheer on her son, who is one of the first people to be a coach and athlete in the game.

“It’s amazing – the smile on their faces,” she said. “They feel like stars already, so you couldn’t be more happy.”

READ MORE: Columbia University Community Shocked By Deadly Knife Attack On Graduate Student Davide Giri

A total of 3,500 athletes, 1,000 coaches and delegates, 10,000 volunteers, and 70,000 spectators and families were set to participate in the games in 16 sports in venues across New Jersey. The games run through Saturday.

“It shows everybody what athletes can accomplish, and that they can dream big,” TJ Nelligan, chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics, told 1010 WINS’ Rebecca Granet. “They can be accepted in the communities.”

One of the athletes is Bobby Fredericks, who was ready to take the track in his home state.

Fredericks, a gold medalist in 2010, is looking to capture more glory — and prove his doubters wrong.

“People always tell us Special Olympics athletes what it is that we can’t do,” Fredericks, 33, told 1010 WINS’ Granet. “And I always like to take it and try to flip it around and throw it back. And so, ‘Hey, look, I can. You don’t think I can. But I can.'”

Fredericks is classified as learning disabled. At one point, he would have 15 to 20 seizures a day, his father day.

Fredericks said he loves the competition of running.

“If somebody’s ahead of you coming back to the finish line, you go after them and say, ‘OK, I can get them, and nip them before you get to the line,'” he said.

You May Also Be Interested In These Stories
[display-posts category=”news” posts_per_page=”4″]

MORE NEWS: Hiring Stalled In November, With Businesses Adding Only 210,000 Jobs

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)