One week ago today, the Closing Ceremony for the Austria 2017 World Winter Games happened, and although it’s sad that the Games are over, I had such an amazing time that I can only feel grateful. The people who live in Graz welcomed all of the athletes, volunteers, families, and coaches and made the World Games into a special experience.
My last day volunteering was March 23, and it was one of the best days of my life. I volunteered for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP). I ran the soccer station, and it was really fun to see the athletes get recognized and cheered for by Unified cheerleaders, their caretakers, and their Unified partners. It was awesome to see all of them up on stage receiving medals and smiling so wide! Later that night, I just made it to watch Eloise, a British figure skater whose parents I had become friends with on the bus to the Opening Ceremony, compete in her free skate and win seventh in the world in Level 4 Figure Skating! After watching Figure Skating for a long time, I went to a special party held to thank volunteers and tried a lot of Austrian desserts with people who had also been volunteering at MATP. That day, my heart felt so full of love and happiness. There’s no other place in the world where you are able to meet people from so many different countries and cultures and become friends with them.
At the 1987 World Games, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, said, “You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.” That definitely happened at this World Games where 2,700 athletes from 107 countries competed. Medals were won, friendships were made, and the world was changed. We, the volunteers, spectators, families, Special Olympics staff, and the people of Graz made these Games special for the athletes. They truly were the stars of the Games.
Some of the best moments of the Games for me were:
- Meeting athletes from around the world and cheering them on, especially those from Team USA, Team Canada, Team Great Britain, Team Austria, and Team South Africa!
- Becoming an honorary member of Team South Africa and getting to eat lunch with them and seeing them compete!
- Becoming friends with fans and volunteers from around the world!
- Meeting Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics and Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s son.
- Meeting Mary Davis, the CEO of Special Olympics International, again (she gave a presentation at Pace University last year!).
- Experiencing the culture of Graz.
- Getting to see some of the people I had met at previous volunteer experiences/internships again.
- Dancing with Team Austria on the first night I got to Graz and doing the conga line with them!
- The award ceremony for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP). The athletes were so happy to get medals, and they loved the applause!
Here’s a video summarizing my trip!