An Interview with Special Olympics Chairman, Tim Shriver

On July 12, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2017 ESPY Awards (Excellence in Sport Performance Yearly). Although given at a sports award show, the Arthur Ashe Courage Award honors people who reflect the spirit of Arthur Ashe, a professional American tennis player, by possessing “strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril, and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.” (Read more about the award here). Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics and her son, accepted it on her behalf.

My family and I watched the ESPYs when they aired, and because I had previously met Tim at the 2017 World Games, I was recently able to interview Tim about his experience, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.

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The Olympics of Blogs: Was it hard to accept the award on behalf of your mother?

Tim Shriver: I wouldn’t say it was hard. I would say it was meaningful. I wanted to do her justice, and I wanted to try with everything I had to carry her message, which gave me a real sense of the weightiness of the moment. Even though it’s an ESPY, and even though it’s about sports, and it’s fun and exciting and all that, I felt it was a serious moment also, a moment for her voice to be heard and seen by people all over the world in sports. So I wanted to do my best and even then, a little better. That was challenging, but I was happy to have the opportunity to give my best shot.

The Olympics of Blogs: I had fun watching it! My family and I watched it all decked out in Special Olympics gear.

Tim Shriver: Great! That’s so fantastic.

The Olympics of Blogs: What do you think your mom would have thought about winning the Arthur Ashe Award?

Tim Shriver: I think two things. She would have thought [of] how much she loved Arthur and how proud she was. She would have been so proud to win it and probably a little shocked. And then I think she would have probably also had a little sneer because she always was a little bit impatient. And she would have said, “It’s about time.” Not because she deserved it, but because the Movement deserved it. So she would have received it with a lot of joy and a little bit of urgency to keep the ball moving forward. She didn’t really like awards because they took away from the work of moving things forward from her point of view. Now that she’s not here, we can take awards and relax a little bit because she deserves it.

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Michelle Obama presented the award to Tim Shriver while he was on stage with Special Olympic athletes.

The Olympics of Blogs: According to Daina Shilts on her ESPY diary for Special Olympics Wisconsin, she said you didn’t read the teleprompter when you got the award. Why didn’t you?

Tim Shriver: I didn’t know Daina wrote that. <Laughed> I just got going. I wanted to speak from my heart. I was prepared. I knew what was on the teleprompter, but I didn’t want to be trapped by it. I wanted to feel the moment. I wanted to be there in the moment, not just be reading what I prepared before the moment.

And I thought going up, one of the things that wasn’t on the script was to recognize the athletes by name, and I just felt like I couldn’t stand… I wanted them to be seen as individuals, as Daina, as Loretta, as all those people who were there. So I just went off the script. I didn’t want to stick to it.

The Olympics of Blogs: It was really powerful. I could tell you were speaking from the heart too.

Tim Shriver: Thank you.

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Outside the ESPYs

The Olympics of Blogs: How were athletes chosen to receive local ESPY awards?

Tim Shriver: Mostly by our local leaders. We didn’t have a big elaborate process, but we invited our local CEOS and board chairs to pick folks who they felt were in the spirit of both my mother and the ESPY award. We let them choose the people they thought best embodied the ideals.

The Olympics of Blogs: What is your favorite Special Olympics moment of all time?

Tim Shriver: That’s tough… I mean Donal Page in Ireland [Page is an athlete who competed in the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP) at the 2003 World Games in Ireland]. Doing the motor activities was certainly in the top 3. You know, Ramadan… running the 10K in Tanzania was in the top 3. Gosh, it’s tough, that’s a very tough one for me. Loretta Claiborne addressing President Clinton in 1995 even though it wasn’t an athletic moment. I mean, my own kids playing Unified. The first time we had a Unified game with my children all participating, I think that was probably number one in some ways because I could see all five of my kids at different ages growing. Their hearts just bursting with growth and opportunity and joy and insight and wisdom [while they’re] just shooting baskets. I don’t know… that’s a tough one.

The Olympics of Blogs: Those are all really good ones! Wow.

Tim Shriver: <Laughed> Yeah.

The Olympics of Blogs: How have you been inspired by the athletes of Special Olympics?

Tim Shriver: Well, I think I’ve been inspired to take chances, to be less afraid of the judgment of others, to trust in my own goodness and in the goodness of the human spirit more. If you see the world as I try to see the world through the eyes of the athletes of Special Olympics, you see a much more welcoming and joyful and ultimately beautiful world, and I try to see through those eyes more and more, and I think many of the athletes have given me the chance to… Just got an email this morning from my Smile Coach Martha Hill, and you know, I smiled for about a half an hour just looking at it.

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Martha Hill

The Olympics of Blogs: What’s a Smile Coach?

Tim Shriver: Smile. She and I just came up with that because she was a Global Messenger, and she was in Shanghai giving speeches. Every time she’d give a speech, she would just have this huge smile on her face, and I was like, “I need someone to help me learn how to smile like you.” And she said, “Well, I’ll be your smile coach.”

The Olympics of Blogs: That’s so sweet.

Tim Shriver: So, I guess maybe that’s the simplest answer. The athletes of Special Olympics have helped me learn to smile more.

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Tim Shriver in his office with the award

The Olympics of Blogs: That’s so nice. If your mother could see Special Olympics now, what do you think she would say?

Tim Shriver: Keep moving. There’s still a lot of injustice in the world. Keep moving.

The Olympics of Blogs: How has your mother inspired you?

Tim Shriver: My mother, she was so smart, and she inspired me to try to be smarter. She was so fearless that she’s inspired me to want to be fearless. And she so trusted her gut. She trusted what she thought was true about the world regardless of what anybody said. And that capacity to trust what you believe deep, deep, deep in your heart is true. I mean, you have to find it, but once you find it, trust it. That’s a huge gift, and she’s made me try to do all those things. Be more fearless, be smarter, and trust my gut more. I’m not where she was, but um…

The Olympics of Blogs: You’re doing pretty well.

Tim Shriver: I’m growing. <Laughed> Thank you.

The Olympics of Blogs: What are your future goals for Special Olympics?

Tim Shriver: I’d like to have Special Olympics Unified Sports in every school in the world. I’d like to have every child grow up in the world with a chance to either play, volunteer, or coach a Unified team. Every child. Because then we’d all have the foundation. We’d all have the basic understanding of the fact that everybody has gifts. And that’s the biggest insight I think in life. Everybody has gifts, and you forget it. We all forget it from time to time.

As the interview ended, I presented Tim with the resolution I had passed (click here to read about it) recognizing July 20, 2017, as Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day in Pennsylvania.

After I gave it to him, he said, “Oh my god, you’re kidding. Wow. <Laughed> Wow! I didn’t know this… State Proclamation. Wow. Isn’t that great? Look at that. You got this done. See what I mean? Amazing. Beautiful.”

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Me with the award!

Getting to interview Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics, was really exciting for me. I was so happy to be able to learn more about his experience at the ESPYs. Together, he and his mother have created such an amazing organization, and I have no doubt that in another 50 years, Special Olympics Unified Sports will be in every school in the world just like he said. Check back on my blog soon because Tim Shriver was nice enough to allow me to see Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s office!

You can watch Tim Shriver accept the ESPY Award below!

Laura Wilkinson, #DreamChaser

As a follow up from my last post about Olympic comebacks, I was able to interview Laura Wilkinson for my blog! It was really amazing to talk to her, and she was so nice. I hope that she makes it to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and the Olympics of Blogs can follow her along the way!

If you’re a fan of Laura’s after reading this interview, you can book Laura to speak at your events! She loves speaking and motivating people by sharing her journey. Click here for more information.

To catch you up if you didn’t read my last post, here’s her comeback video:

The Olympics of Blogs: How do you feel about returning to diving?

Laura Wilkinson: Well, it’s fun. It’s fresh and new again, but there’s some wisdom and experience there. You know, it’s kind of a neat mix.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is it different now then when you competed in the past? Does it feel different?

Laura Wilkinson: I’m still kind of just getting started again. I haven’t been to many meets or been in that environment that much. It’s mainly just been training and getting my dives up again. So, there’s a lot of similarities, but it’s a different environment than I grew up training in and you know, it’s not the same pool. It’s a different situation, so there’s differences there. I don’t really know as far as the competing goes. I just haven’t done it enough yet.

The Olympics of Blogs: That makes sense. When’s your first big meet?

Laura Wilkinson: We have Nationals in August.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you feel ready?

Laura Wilkinson: Yes and no. I’m ready to mix it up with people. You know, we just went to our Zone meet in Moultrie [Georgia] this last weekend, and there were only 3 people, and 5 were going to qualify. There was no pressure. There was no meet atmosphere. It was kind of like, “oh well, we’re all going [to qualify].” So, I’m ready to get in that environment where you know, you’re nervous, there’s pressure, it matters. I’m excited to step back into that.

The Olympics of Blogs: Going back to when you competed at the Sydney Olympics, how
did it feel to stand on the platform before you dove? Were you focusing on the crowd or Laura_1-1just on the dive?

Laura Wilkinson: Somebody gave me really good advice before I went to the Olympics. It was a Canadian Olympian, and she had competed in her home country at the Montreal Olympics. She told me, “You know, when you get to the Olympics, enjoy the atmosphere. Enjoy the Olympic experience, but when you go to dive and it’s your time to compete, let all that go. In reality, it’s just another diving meet against people you’ve competed against before doing dives that you’ve done a hundred times. There’s nothing new there. All the new stuff is just the extra. It’s the people watching, it’s the tv, it’s the camera, it’s all just fluff. But in reality, it’s still just another meet.” I think knowing that really helped keep me grounded. I did, I soaked up the Olympics. I loved the Opening Ceremonies. I loved everything Olympics. But when it was my time to dive, I was able to just get into the meet.

The Olympics of Blogs: Did you get to walk in the Opening Ceremonies?

Laura Wilkinson: I did. I did at all three of my Olympics I got to. It was really cool.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did you compete at the Sydney Olympics with a broken foot? Just thinking about that makes me cringe.

Laura Wilkinson: Well, I had a stress fracture in my left foot, and then I completely broke three bones in my right foot, the three middle metatarsals. And, the way it broke, part of one of the bones slid underneath my foot, and it calcified to the two bones next to it, what they call a bone bridge. So, without doing surgery to rebreak it back together and fix it, we casted it the way it was to give me the best shot at trying to go to the Olympics. So, it was like walking on a sharp rock. It was really painful. I had to walk in a shoe, like a tennis shoe at all times. I even had to wear a shoe up to the 10-meter then throw it down. So, there was a lot of pain there, especially on certain dives where you put all the weight on the ball of your foot. You know that’s right where it’s broken, and then there was fear of hitting it again. So, it was a lot. It was a lot of pain, [and] it was a lot of mental stress you know. But I think it actually became a blessing because it helped me focus on the things I needed to focus on.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did it feel when you won gold?

920x920Laura Wilkinson: I didn’t really know. I knew I was doing well. I didn’t know that I was in the lead going into the last couple dives. I just knew I was kind of in the hunt, and I had made up some ground. So after I had done my last dive and there were 4 more people to still go and I couldn’t see the scoreboard, I just kept looking at my coach because he could see the scoreboard. After each person went, he’d turn around and he’d do the thing, kind of throw his arms up and go “yeah!” And finally, after the last girl went, he came running over and picked me up, and I was like “oh, we must have medaled.” But I had no idea we won until he just kept turning me around and saying, “We did it. We did it.” And it just kind of dawned on me at that point. Like oh my goodness, we won. So, it was a really neat moment that he got to tell me. I had no idea, so it was really cool.

The Olympics of Blogs: How does it feel to be the last female American diver to medal on the 10-meter platform? Do you think you could repeat winning gold in Tokyo?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s really neat. I seem to get mentioned a lot for that, but you know, at the same time, I want the U.S. to do well. It’s hard to watch some of our people come close and just not quite get there. It’s both. It’s exciting to leave that legacy, but then at the same time, I want people to follow in my footsteps. I want our country to step up and fill that void. And yeah, I don’t know. I’m kind of just focused on where I am right now. Like I do have those bigger goals, but right now, I’m just focusing on where I’m at and getting to that next step.

The Olympics of Blogs: I understand that. Do you have any advice for divers who are just starting their careers?

Laura Wilkinson: To not give up because it’s so easy to get frustrated. Diving can be a very frustrating sport. It’s a lot like golf. You do this half a second movement, and then you get frustrated, and you have all this time to wait. Then you have to try it again. It can be really aggravating. I think just stick with it and just keep going and not give up when it gets frustrating because that’s oftentimes when you’re close to figuring it out. Just keep going.

The Olympics of Blogs: That’s good advice. I remember that when I was diving, it could be so frustrating!

Laura Wilkinson: Yeah, it is. It drives you crazy. That’s why my coach is bald.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is it hard to train while having a family? Is it a lot harder with children?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s just a different dynamic. You know, I’m not doing the same kind of schedule I did before. I’m not doing 8 hours a day right now. It’s usually about half that, and once I come home, I’m Mom the rest of the time. But it is just different. It’s been a change for them with me being out of the house more this year, and one of my daughters has struggled with that a little bit. I mean, it’s like Mom going back to work. It’s just a different dynamic, so we’re all kind of adjusting to it. The really cool part is when my kids send me good luck notes. They tell me they want me to win because they want confetti to fall from the sky, you know. I came home and said I got second in the Zone meet, and my daughter said, “If you got second, then nobody must have been first.” It’s cool to watch them try to understand this and get all excited for me. It’s pretty cool to watch. And one time, my husband was filming, and I heard my son say, “That’s my Mommy!” It’s kind of cool when they’re proud of you, and it’s definitely a different dynamic, but it’s awesome.

The Olympics of Blogs: It sounds awesome! Do you think any of your kids will start diving?

Laura Wilkinson: I don’t know. One of them says she wants to, but she also told me after the Olympics last year that’s she’s going to go to the Olympics in diving, gymnastics, track, the pole vault, and something else. She had like 5 or 6 different events she was going to do at the Olympics. They’re still young. We’ll see what they choose to do.

The Olympics of Blogs: Thank you so much! I hope to see you compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics! Good luck!

Laura Wilkinson: Thanks!

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An Interview with Eloise, a Special Olympics World Winter Games Figure Skater

Over the Special Olympics World Winter Games, I had the amazing privilege to meet so many incredible people from around the world. To get to the Opening Ceremony, for example, I got one of the last seats on the South African delegation’s bus. This was such a cool experience because I became friends with many of the players and the head of the delegation. In addition, I met Sue and David Carruthers, the parents of Eloise, who competed in Figure Skating for Team GB.

Throughout the week, I ran into Team South Africa and the Caruthers a few times, and I’m very glad I did. Both groups really contributed to how much I enjoyed the Games. On March 21, I interviewed Eloise for my blog, which was really cool because she is one of the best female figure skaters in Level 4 skating in the world.

Here’s the video. Please excuse the poor sound quality. It was hard to find a quiet place at the rink!

The video ends with Eloise’s free skate, which I just made it to see on Thursday! She won seventh place, and her skating was absolutely beautiful.

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It was really fun to meet and cheer for Eloise at the World Games! 😀

An Interview with Team USA’s Unified Floor Hockey Coach

The Special Olympics World Winter Games start a week from today, so to start getting everyone excited to cheer on Team USA, I interviewed David Durandisse, the coach of the Unified Floor Hockey team from New York City that will compete in the Games.

The Olympics of Blogs: What are you most excited for about Austria?

David: I’m excited to be visiting Europe and being a part of this huge event. I remember our first practice and now that we are this close to departure, I’m excited to see all the work come together and pay off.

The Olympics of Blogs: How were you chosen to coach the team?

David: I was offered the opportunity to join the team and I accepted.

The Olympics of Blogs: How long has your team been training for the World Games?

David: We have been practicing since September, so about 6 months.

The Olympics of Blogs: How has your team been practicing to prepare for the World Games?

David: We have been conditioning to get their stamina up; live scrimmages to get a feel for the game against opponents. We have done a bunch of drills and live game scenarios to map out what we want to do in games.

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The Olympics of Blogs: Will you and your team walk in the Opening Ceremony for Team USA?

David: We will be walking in Opening Ceremonies.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you think they’ll win gold?

David: I believe we have the players to win gold. We have a combination of size and speed that should work to our advantage to create scoring opportunities. I believe if we can put that together we will surely win gold.

The Olympics of Blogs: After coaching a Unified team, what do you think about Unified sports?

David: Unified sports is a great concept. I have seen two sides come together as one. Individuals who may have not had a chance to come together, now have that opportunity through unified sports. They have created friendships that will last a lifetime.

The Olympics of Blogs: What has been your favorite moment as a coach for Unified Floor Hockey?

David: Hanging out with the team and bonding with the coaches. We all started this journey months ago, and along the way we have shared many laughs on and off the court.

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You can watch Team USA’s Unified Floor Hockey team walk in the Opening Ceremony on ABC on March 18 from 2-5 pm ET!

The Athens 2004 Opening Ceremony

When I was interning for Special Olympic NYC last spring, I met Annamaria who was also an intern. In 2004, she attended the Opening Ceremony for the Athens 2004 Olympics with her family. The Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony is one week from today, so I asked her about her experience at the Athens Ceremony 12 years ago.

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Annamaria with her grandpa at the Opening Ceremony

The Olympics of Blogs: How old were you when you watched the Athens 2004 Opening Ceremony?

Annamaria: I was 10 years old.

The Olympics of Blogs: What was your favorite part?

Annamaria: The entire ceremony was amazing, but if I had to choose one part, it was when there were two men beating a drum. One on screen at the site Olympia and one in the stadium. Immediately after this, a flame flew into the Olympic stadium and created the Olympic rings. I remember that being a powerful moment and apparently the drum beats were supposed to represent the beating of the heart.

Here is a video of that moment! Click the link to open it on YouTube!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2atZjcBqs4

The Olympics of Blogs: As someone who is Greek and American, do you think that you experienced the Ceremony differently from people of different nationalities?

Annamaria: I would say for Greek people from Greece and around the world, this Ceremony was very important to them and once in a lifetime. I was very proud to have the Olympic Games back at home in Greece and very grateful that I could experience the Ceremony in person. I also think the Olympics are very important to Americans, and they also have a lot of pride as well. So it was a really special night, experiencing the entire ceremony as both a proud Greek and American. We had both the American and Greek flag with us; this made the whole experience of cheering for the Greek and American athletes really fun! We were cheering for everyone though. The people sitting near us were from different areas around the world, so we were cheering with them too and just having a great time!

The Olympics of Blogs: Could you describe the ceremony?

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Annamaria: The entire ceremony felt surreal. I was sad when it ended because I didn’t want it to end! It was a very well put together ceremony and very symbolic, which ties in with the importance of symbolism and philosophy in Greek history and culture. A large portion of the ceremony was the procession of the history of Greece until modern day. It was so beautiful to watch. A moment that stuck out to me the most was when the athletes from Iraq walked out. The entire stadium started cheering very loud for them to support them, given the political tensions that were happening around the world at that time. It really proves how the Olympics can be unifying and bring peace during times of political division in the world. Overall, the entire ceremony was beautiful and well put together. The feeling in the stadium was full of happiness, excitement, and pride from everyone.
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I’m still working on trying to get Opening Ceremony tickets of my own! We’ll see how that goes as we get closer to August 5. Only 7 days to go until the 2016 Rio Opening Ceremony.

For faster updates while I’m at the Olympics, follow the Olympics of Blogs on Instagram @theolympicsofblogs.

The U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials

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Leah Braswell, a 16-year-old who trains and competes with the York YMCA in Pennsylvania, recently competed at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on July 1 in Omaha, Nebraska. The Olympics of Blogs was able to interview her about her experience at the Trials, and here’s what she had to say.

The Olympics of Blogs: What event did you compete in?

Leah: I competed in the 800 freestyle.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did you do at the Olympic Trials?

Leah: I added a few seconds in the 800 and didn’t do as well as I had hoped.

The Olympics of Blogs: How were the Trials? Could you describe them?

Leah: Trials was an indescribable experience. It was so exciting being able to watch finals and getting to see people make their first or fifth Olympic team. There was an extreme mix of emotions between people making the team and others getting third and just missing it.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you think you will try again for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

Leah: In 2020, I hope to be swimming in college and will most likely try again.

The Olympics of Blogs: How were you feeling before you competed?

Leah: My race was on one of the last days of the meet, so I had already been there to watch preliminaries and finals for five days and see how the meet ran, which definitely helped me with nerves. However, I was still pretty nervous before the race because it’s a very intense atmosphere.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did you feel after you were done?

Leah: After the race, I was a little upset because I added to my time, but it was still an amazing experience that I will never forget.

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The York YMCA Swim Team

Good luck to Leah in the future in college and Tokyo 2020!

Less than 2 weeks until I head to Rio! For faster updates while I’m at the Olympics, follow the Olympics of Blogs on Instagram @theolympicsofblogs.

 

An Interview with Marlene Owens Rankin, the Daughter of Jesse Owens

RACE is a movie about Jesse Owens, one of the most inspiring Olympians of all time. He competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin right before Hitler and the Nazis came into full power. Owens won four gold medals, and his wins showed the Nazis that people of all races can become champions. Released on DVD today, RACE stars Stephan James as Jesse Owens and co-stars Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, and Carice van Houten.

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Jesse Owens had three daughters, Gloria, Marlene, and Beverly. Together, they run the Jesse Owens Foundation, which “perpetuate[s] the spirit and beliefs of Jesse Owens through its support of The Ruth and Jesse Owens Scholars Program at The Ohio State University as well as through serving as a resource for information on the life and legend of Jesse Owens” (see http://jesse-owens.org/ for more information). Although Owens passed away in 1980, his foundation carries on his memory.

The Olympics of Blogs was able to interview one of Jesse Owens’ daughters, Marlene Owens Rankin, about the movie, the foundation, and her father. Enjoy!

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Left to Right: Beverly Owens Prather, Marlene Owens Rankin, and Gloria Owens Hemphill. Photo from the Chicago Tribune (http://tinyurl.com/j4yqev4)

The Olympics of Blogs: What was it like to grow up with your dad?

Marlene Owens Rankin: Growing up with my father was much like any other family. He was a disciplinarian and he and my mother had high expectations and standards for me and my sisters. It was not until we reached our teenage years that we realized that he was a celebrity and the level of his celebrity. He was just Daddy to us.

The Olympics of Blogs: Were you ever able to watch your dad run? Could you describe the experience?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I was not born when my father was in his prime as an athlete. Watching films of his athletic accomplishments is awe inspiring. Such talent – such grace.

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Competing at the 1936 Olympics.                                                                                                                  Photo Credit: USATF Hall of Fame (http://www.usatf.org/halloffame/TF/showBio.asp?HOFIDs=126)

The Olympics of Blogs: Have you ever been to Berlin? Were you able to see where your father competed?

Marlene Owens Rankin: My sisters and I have been to Berlin a number of times and each time has been a heartwarming and enjoyable experience. I remember the first time that I saw the Olympic stadium and his name etched in the wall, it gave me chills. It is an amazing place. Today, there is a street that leads to the stadium named for him – Jesse Owens Allee. In the stadium there is a Jesse Owens Lounge which is most impressive with large photos of him surrounding the two story room. Our last visit was to be on set for the filming of one of the scenes for the movie RACE.

The Olympics of Blogs: What is your role in the Jesse Owens Foundation?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I am the Managing Director of the Jesse Owens Foundation. I have managed the Foundation since 1991 and duties included administering the Scholarship and other programs, fund raising, managing up to 100 volunteers, working with the Board of Directors on policy issues, mentoring students and supervising staff. Today, we have downsized and endowed our program (scholarships) to The Ohio State University. The Foundation now provides occasional small grants and provides information and referral on the life and legacy of Jesse Owens.

The Olympics of Blogs: How does the work of the Jesse Owens Foundation showcase the spirit of Jesse Owens?

Marlene Owens Rankin: By providing information on Jesse Owens, we keep history from being rewritten. Our participation in the accuracy of the script for the movie RACE is an example of how we manage that. Our work with The Ohio State University in providing underprivileged young people with an opportunity for an education is another and our efforts on behalf of the youth of this country is yet another.

The Olympics of Blogs: What was your role in the creation of RACE

Marlene Owens Rankin: The creation of RACE was the brainchild of Luc Dayan, a French businessman and sports enthusiast. We participated in it by providing guidance with the script in terms of context and time.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you think your dad would like the movie?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I think that my father would be very proud of the movie.

The Olympics of Blogs: What was your favorite part of RACE?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I loved it all but the part that tugged at my heart the most was when my parents were not allowed to enter the Waldorf at the front door but had to use the freight elevator. It breaks your heart that such a kind, caring and giving individual such as he was could be treated so shabbily.

The Olympics of Blogs: If your dad were alive right now, what do you think he would say about track and field as it is today?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I’m not sure what he would say about it. I know that he loved the sport and was proud of his accomplishments. He encouraged others to strive for excellence and be the best that they could be. He was modest and appreciated his good fortune.

Here is RACE‘s trailer:

I would like to thank Marlene for allowing me to interview her and for giving me this amazing opportunity to learn more about such an inspirational figure in the Olympics.

Make sure to get out and buy a copy of RACE today!

The Armless Archer

Matt Stutzman won a silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympics, broke the Guinness World Record for longest archery shot (230 yards or approximately two football fields), and  then broke his own world record at 310 yards. He is ranked the eleventh best archer in the world and is called the Armless Archer because he has accomplished everything without arms.

I was lucky enough to interview him about the upcoming Rio Paralympics, London 2012, and his family!

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The Olympics of Blogs: What are you most excited for in Rio?

Matt: I am most excited about the opportunity of competing in my second games and for another shot at a Gold Medal.

The Olympics of Blogs: Why did you choose archery as your sport?

Matt: I chose archery because it is the only sport that doesn’t stereotype against any athlete. Anyone can pick up a bow and be the best in the world at it with enough practice.

The Olympics of Blogs: What has been your favorite moment at a competition?

Matt: My favorite moment in a competition was back in 2014 when I competed at indoor nationals, which is the largest competition in the US. I became the first person with a physical disability to shoot a perfect score, I did not miss any points. I was one of only eight athletes to do so.

The Olympics of Blogs: What has been your proudest moment as an athlete?

Matt: My proudest moment as an athlete was representing Team USA in the 2012 London Paralympic Games and being part of something bigger than myself.

matt-stutzman-article.jpgThe Olympics of Blogs: Have you ever thought about competing in the Olympics and the Paralympics as some athletes have done? Would you do it? 

Matt: I would compete in the Olympic Games, but as of right now they don’t allow the use of compound bows, which is what I shoot. Until the they allow compound in the Olympic Games, I will compete in the Paralympic Games.

The Olympics of Blogs: What were you thinking as you stood on the podium after you won silver at the 2012 Paralympics?

Matt: I thought about where I had left my gloves…. lol. But in all seriousness, I just thought about how proud I was to represent the United States of America.

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The Olympics of Blogs: What inspires you?

Matt: My family inspires me because they look up to me and I want to show my boys that with hard work, you can overcome anything.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is it difficult to balance training for the Paralympics and having a family?

Matt: Yes, it is difficult. I have to budget my time wisely and have a good dose of family mixed in with training.

Katy Sanchez: Special Olympics Athlete

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Katy, me, and Doug before the Opening Ceremony

Even though we are both from New York, are involved with Special Olympics New York, and actually live a little more than an hour away from each other, I didn’t meet Katy Sanchez until I went to Los Angeles. We were both at the Just-in-Time Training for volunteers at the World Games. I thought I had seen her before (and I had), so I introduced myself to her and her mom, Susan. It was great to find fellow New Yorkers in LA! We met up a few more times in LA, helped each other to get around on the metro, and then I saw her and her mom at the most recent State Games in October where she competed in golf.

Katy’s passion about Special Olympics is really inspiring and powerful. She is a speaker, a Global Messenger for Special Olympics New York, and a very good, competitive, and committed Special Olympics athlete in the Hudson Valley Region. Even though she didn’t qualify for the World Games this summer, she still came to volunteer and support the athletes. She was also kind enough to grant the Olympics of Blogs an interview. 🙂

The Olympics of Blogs: How long have you been participating in 10156791_634675696625264_6607710400034735330_nSpecial Olympics?

Katy: I started Special Olympics in 2007. I started with Basketball. Special Olympics has changed my life

The Olympics of Blogs: What sports do you compete in?

Katy: The sports I compete in are golf, soccer, floor hockey, basketball, track and field, cycling, and I even do triathlons.

The Olympics of Blogs: What is your favorite sport?

Katy: My favorite sport is basketball because my brother taught me how to play the game.

The Olympics of Blogs: What is your favorite thing about Special Olympics?

Katy: My favorite thing about Special Olympics is that we have mutual respect for each other.

The Olympics of Blogs: How many medals have you won?

Katy: I’ve won 99 medals so far; more are coming this year!

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The Olympics of Blogs: What was your favorite experience at Special Olympics?

Katy: My favorite experience is becoming a Global Messenger for Special Olympics New York. I enjoy speaking about Special Olympics to the community!

11825905_999410680081612_7962135851699404854_nThe Olympics of Blogs: What was your job at the World Games?

Katy: I was an athlete volunteer at the World Games in LA in July of 2015. I volunteered at soccer and received soccer balls, and one day at Tennis, I helped out the fans!

The Olympics of Blogs: Based on your experience at the World Games, how is volunteering as a Special Olympics athlete different from competing?

Katy: My experience as volunteering at World Games in LA in July of 2015 was that I got to support other athletes that were competing!

The Olympics of Blogs: What other Games have you been to, either as a competitor or a volunteer?

Katy: I’ve been to National Games in 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska, for track and field with Team Virginia. Also in 2010, I got to go to Latin America with my Team Virginia Area 26 teammates [for the Latin American Games]. Also I went to the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey for triathlon with Team New York.

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Katy at the Team USA Games

The Olympics of Blogs: Have you ever done any speaking activities for Special Olympics? What were those?

Katy: I have done a lot speaking opportunities, but my favorite one was New York City Gala, where my speech was a moving one!! I spoke in front of 700 people.

The Olympics of Blogs: What does Special Olympics mean to you?

Katy: Special Olympics means family. I have always said it’s my second family because we protect each other. It also means accepting who we are. Also, we are inspiration to others.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Katy: BE A FAN OF Special Olympics! I would love to see more Unified teams in high schools and colleges!!

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Katy at the Rockland Polar Plunge this past weekend

Katy’s goal is to be an International Global Messenger for Special Olympics International and/or to compete in the World Games. Good luck, Katy!

My Interview with Greg Louganis

12179421_10205593663180662_723909234_n-1On Sunday, October 25, I traveled to the Bow Tie Cinemas in Chelsea to see NewFest’s premiere of the HBO documentary, Back on Board: Greg Louganis. Greg Louganis is one of my favorite Olympic athletes because of his true commitment to the values of the Olympic Movement. He is actually one of the reasons why I began diving.

I don’t want to spoil the film, but here’s a short bio of his experience with the Olympic Movement. According to his website, he “is widely considered the greatest diver in history,” and because he won a silver medal in the 1976 Games, two gold medals (on 3 meter and 10 meter) at the 1984 Games, and two gold medals (on 3 meter and 10 meter) at the 1988 Games, I would agree. Most people remember his bravery after he hit his head on the board, continued diving within the hour, and won gold at the 1988 Games.

After the 1988 Games, he retired, and then in 1995, he and Eric Marcus wrote his autobiography, Breaking the Surface, where he came out as gay and HIV+. Back on Board is about his experiences while he was competing, at the Seoul Games, after he came out, his advocacy, and his current work as a mentor for USA Diving.

Incredibly, I was able to meet and interview him on the documentary, preparing for the Rio Olympics, and many other things. Below is the interview. You can watch the documentary on HBO GO and HBO NOW.

The Olympics of Blogs: What do you hope people walk away with from your film?

imagesGreg: Well, you know, it’s interesting because I’m just the subject matter, and it’s the director, Cheryl Furjanic, and [producer/writer] Will Sweeney who really chose what to focus on, how to tell the story, and what story to tell. We were together for three and a half years in the process, so they really had a lot to choose from. They focused on the diving and my entry back into the sport of diving. There’s some current day stuff mixed in there as far as challenges I’ve been through and so, I think what I found people take away from it most is that no matter how much you achieve, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all make good decisions and bad decisions because we’re human. That’s what people come away with. It’s the humanity.

It was interesting because it’s been focused on the LGBT film festival, but I’ve been getting responses from [many people]. One, which is very meaningful, was from a straight black woman, and she wrote that after viewing the documentary, she found the courage to come out to her friends and loved ones about her HIV status. She has two daughters who I’m assuming are HIV-.

And [the audience will come away from it with] how challenging it is in various communities – you know, the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and the stigma of being LGBT. You know, all of those things. We’ve come a long way, and the advances in treatments since I was diagnosed in ’88 are wonderful. That I’m still here is truly amazing because when I was diagnosed in ’88, I didn’t think I’d see 30. Everyone was dying.

Even when I saw the film for the first time, I learned a lot because in a part of the film, I said that, “An atomic bomb could have gone off, and I never would have known.” That’s how focused I was on being successful in my sport and doing my homework, getting ready, preparation, and all that. I heard about AIDS, and that was kind of out there. I had friends who were dying, and it really brought home the gravity of what was happening at that time. I find that people are coming away [from this film] with its persistence and tenacity of hanging in there and believing things will work out.

The Olympics of Blogs: What are some of the differences between writing a book and being involved in this film?

Greg: Well, I worked with my coauthor, Eric Marcus. We started back in ’93, and that was a whole process. I knew that I wanted to share my story, and the only way I felt that I could do it justice was through a book. Eric is incredibly thorough, and working on it was very cathartic. But at the same time, there were points in the process of our working together where I wasn’t ready emotionally to deal with it. He really forced me to revisit and examine areas of my life where I just really didn’t want to go.

Eventually, I got there, and I think that was what was so telling. It was a New York Times bestseller for five weeks because it was so revealing and raw. I thought that I was sharing my weaknesses, but on book tour, I realized by sharing my weaknesses, I was actually sharing my strength. That’s kind of how I perceived this process of doing a documentary when I was approached by Cheryl Furjanic and Will Sweeney. I felt confident that I was in good hands, and my story would be treated with love and respect.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did it feel to go back to diving after such a long time?

Greg: It was nice. I like the capacity that I came back in as athlete mentor. That’s been so meaningful. I feel impactful.

We are going to be in a tough spot in Rio. The state of diving right now globally is the entire world is chasing China. Mexico has poured millions and millions of dollars into their diving program, and it’s showing. They’re really coming onto the scene strong. Canada has a wonderful program. They know that they can’t support all of the elite athletes, so they pick and choose the athletes they feel have the best shot at success. Then they pour their resources into those athletes. It’s a very different model from what USA Diving is using. They [USA Diving] disbanded the National Training Center, which I feel is a huge mistake. I’d really like to see much more coaches’ collaboration and more of a sense of a U.S. team. I love what Canada does with their One Team campaign.

Right now in the states, it’s a little bit more about this club against that club against that club. If they [the club] have a talent, their tendency is to hold onto that talent to gain recognition. It really should be a collaborative effort in order to be successful. We have some tremendous talent, but we need to share resources, especially since many of the facilities are limited. There’s not that many full on dive facilities around the country. They are few and far between. To share resources, to share knowledge, and to share experiences is the only way we’re going to be successful.

The Olympics of Blogs: How will the U.S. men’s 10 meter platform diving be in Rio?*

Greg: David Boudia is still continuing. He gets it, which is exciting for me to see. They teamed him up. His synchro partner is Steele Johnson, who is a young kid, and he can mentor Steele through the process. Also, being teamed with a diver who is better than you elevates your performance. You rise to the occasion. I think that is very powerful and impactful.

*Greg won gold for the 10 meter platforming diving at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. In 2012, U.S. diver David Boudia won gold. I’m also going to see this event in Rio, so it was interesting to see what Greg thought about it.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did it feel to carry the Special Olympics flag in the World Games’ Opening Ceremony?

Greg: It was great. It was a great honor to be with all those guys. I had a lot of fun.

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Carrying the flag