Looking Back…

 

For the past two years, August has been a special month for me. Two years ago, I had just finished volunteering at the Los Angeles 2015 World Summer Games. One year ago, I was in Rio volunteering for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Both of those experiences are very important to me, and I have such wonderful memories for both of them. Before both of these experiences, I was very nervous. For LA, I was traveling somewhere by myself and volunteering at an international event for the first time, and for Rio, I was going to Brazil without knowing a lot of people or a lot of Portuguese. However, I loved each experience so much.

Thinking back to August 2016 and 2015, I thought a good blog post would feature my favorite picture from each one. I love photography, and there are some photos that really capture the spirit of the Games.

Here’s my favorite photo from LA 2015:

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LA 2015 was an eye-opening experience for me partly because it seemed like the whole world had come together to compete or to cheer for the athletes, but also because of moments like this. This is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. Those two athletes are from different countries, might not even have spoken the same language, and one of them won gold while the other won silver, but they are united in their celebration. They look so happy, proud, and triumphant. It makes me happy just to look at it.

For Rio 2016, it was a lot harder to choose, but I do love this one.

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This photo reminds me of the Closing Ceremony, one of my favorite moments of the Olympics. It was a symbol that I had achieved my dream of going to the Olympics. I had gone there and made the most of it. I was there at the Closing Ceremony! It felt like a really big party, and I think this photo captures that.

Thanks for reminiscing with me! Even though I’m sad that these events are over, the great thing about the Olympics and Special Olympics is that there will always be more moments like these in the future.

Trading Tuesday: Graduation

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My family and I outside of Madison Square Garden

Two weeks ago, I graduated from Pace University. It was a really fun day, and I was excited that my family could come to New York City to watch it. Thank you, Mom, Dad, Liz, Adri, and Derek for coming! It meant a lot to me. ❤

unnamedThese are the three pins I wore during graduation. They are some of my favorite pins out of my entire collection because they are symbols for the amazing experiences I’ve had at major sporting events. Every time I look at them, I remember all the people I met and all the things I was able to do, and I feel proud to have volunteered at the LA 2015 Special Olympics World Games, the Rio 2016 Olympics, and the Austria 2017 Special Olympics World Games during my college experience. Without volunteering at these Games (and getting these pins), I would not be where I am today. Those experiences were so valuable to me and helped teach me more about the world, myself, the Olympic Movement, and humanity. My experience at Pace and in New York City taught me how to push myself and make my dreams happen.

 

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You can see the pins proudly displayed on my Stole of Gratitude!

I wore these pins on a blue stole called a Stole of Gratitude. At the time, it seemed to be the only place where they could go and actually be seen, but now, it’s perfect that they were on that stole. I am so thankful for those experiences, and I have immense gratitude for all the opportunities I’ve had so far in my life and that I will have. I gave my Stole of Gratitude to my thesis and academic advisor, Bill. He really deserves it for helping me so much before, during, and after my time at Pace.

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Bill and I after the ceremony

Thank you, Pace, my family, the Honors College, and my friends for a wonderful college experience! Amazing Awaits!

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My cap

My Special Olympics Anniversary

Yesterday was my one year anniversary for volunteering with Special Olympics. On February 6, 2015, I began my Special Olympics journey at the 2015 Winter State Games in Syracuse. On that day, I helped put up arenas for Floor Hockey and watched my first ever Opening Ceremony. It has been a really special year since then, and it’s all because of Special Olympics.

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At the Empire State Building to welcome the World Games athletes home

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I’m so happy that I’m a part of the Special Olympics family, a family of truly inspiring individuals who love the Olympic Movement just as much as I do. From the employees at Special Olympics New York to the athletes to the volunteers in New York and LA, Special Olympics constantly reminds me that the world is full of good people. It pushes me to want to be a better person, and it makes me happy to see the athletes compete and succeed over hurdles in sports and in the world.

IMG_7360One of my favorite Special Olympics memories from the past year happened at a Basketball Skills competition. One of the athletes, the self-proclaimed Gold Medal Ted, asked my supervisor and I if he could sing, and it was decided that he could sing during the Closing Ceremony. After the medals were awarded to the athletes, it was time for the Closing Ceremony to begin.

Ted stood in front of the microphone, and first, he thanked everyone for coming. Then, he explained to all of the volunteers and the athletes that he was going to sing “What a Wonderful World” for them and also for his mom who was in Heaven. He began singing, and it was an unexplainably beautiful moment. The gym, which had been filled with the sound of basketballs pounding on the floor just moments before, was so quiet as everyone listened to his beautiful, emotion-filled voice. Although Ted didn’t actually win a gold medal in Basketball Skills, he won a gold medal in our hearts by living according to the Special Olympics’ Athlete Oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

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Athletes like Ted make me so happy that I have had the opportunity to work and volunteer for Special Olympics. It’s an organization I believe in, and although I don’t know what I will do after I graduate, I know that I will always support Special Olympics. Here’s to another year!

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Pins (And Their Place in the Olympic Movement)

In my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, they have frames filled with pins right above the computer. For a long time when I was growing up, I had no idea what they were for. However, it all clicked one day, and I realized that these were the pins my family had collected when we went to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

I was one at the time, so I don’t remember it, but my sister says it was really awesome. She told me that her pins were coveted because my mom had gotten Kodak pins that no one else had. Although I missed out on the pin-collecting fun at the Atlanta Games, I was able to experience my own pin-collecting fun this summer at the Special Olympics World Games.

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He was right outside of the LA Memorial Coliseum after the Opening Ceremony and would only trade for pins. People kept trying to buy them, but he kept refusing.

Amy, my supervisor at Special Olympics New York, gave me Special Olympics New York pins before I left. I’m so grateful that she did because I was able to trade those for really cool pins. Mine were highly desired because not many people there were from New York. From my experience, trading pins was a way to open up conversation and connect with people from anywhere. The pins bridged the gap between cultures and languages. Most of the delegations had pins from their countries with them, and it was a good way to approach a team and get to know them. Special Olympics athletes are so kind that usually they tried to give me their pins instead of trading. I always had to make sure that they also got pins from me.

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One of the coolest pin tradings happened on my last night as a volunteer. I was already done with my shift, and I was saying goodbye to everything at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza with my friend I had made during the Games. A man and a woman approached me and asked if I wanted to trade with them. They ended up trading me pins from the Atlanta 1996 Olympics! I traded some of my pins for an Atlanta Olympic pin, Paralympic pin, and a Diving pin. As I was talking with them, they told me they were Olympic historians, and they had been to 18 Olympics in total. They had actually just returned from the Pan Am Games, which happened in Toronto this summer. I got some advice from them about Rio, and I said I would see them there!

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Pins from the Fan Zone. We were giving them out for free- no trading necessary!

After I came back from the World Games, I wasn’t sure of what I should do with my pins. I definitely wanted to display them, so I could see them every day just like I could in my parents’ house. Eventually, I decided to arrange them on a bulletin board with my favorite photos from the Games. I just finished it this past week, and here’s the finished product:

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Thanks for reading! Please follow me for more updates on my Olympic journey!

Highlights from the Special Olympics World Games

Here are my top 5 favorite highlights from my experience at the World Games:

1. Being inspired by the athletes’ sportsmanship. The Special Olympics athletes at the World Games embodied everything I love about the Olympic Movement. Even though all of the athletes wanted to win gold, they still respected each other in the competition and outside of it. I saw the best example of athlete sportsmanship during the Award Ceremony for Artistic Gymnastics. One division of athletes contained two athletes, and at first, it was just a normal ceremony. The two athletes received their medals, and everyone watching cheered. Next though, one athlete took the hand of the other, and they raised up their hands together. It was so spontaneous and really spoke to the best parts of the human spirit. Even though one had won gold and the other silver and they were from different countries, they were still able to unite together in their accomplishments.

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Meeting up with the two Thomases from NYC

2. Being able to see the two competing athletes from Special Olympics New York City. During my time in LA, I was able to meet up with four athletes from Special Olympics New York. Two were competing in the World Games, one was the parent of one of the World Games athletes (and an athlete himself), and one was an athlete volunteer who didn’t make it to this World Games and decided to volunteer instead. It was amazing to find the Special Olympics New York family as far away as California.

I was able to cheer on Thomas, one of the NYC athletes, in his 4 by 100 relay. It was so exciting to watch him do what he excels at and loves to do. I joined the athlete volunteer from New York, all of Team USA, and his dad in cheering for Thomas and his team. In the end, they won a bronze medal in that relay! As for the other NYC athlete (also named Thomas), I just missed seeing him compete in Artistic Gymnastics, but luckily, I was still able to meet up with him afterward and see how he was doing. His coach let me come into the gymnastics practice room, and I was able to see Thomas with all of his teammates. He was having so much fun! In the end, Thomas won two silver medals and two bronze medals.

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IMG_9237 watermark3. Befriending my fellow volunteers. During the Games, I volunteered at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza in the Fan Zone. This meant that we helped to check in the team captains of large groups of Fans in the Stands. It was incredible how many people volunteered to cheer on the athletes. For a few sports, such as Artistic Gymnastics and Judo, the venues were completely full with Fans in the Stands. This in itself is amazing because most of the athletes’ families, friends, and other fans couldn’t come due to the distance. I also passed out “I’m a fan” pins and took photos of people in front of the Circle of Inclusion (as shown in the photo of some Fan Zone volunteers and me).

I was surprised by how quickly I became friends with all of the volunteers working in the Fan Zone. They were so friendly and answered every question an East Coaster had about the West Coast, which I really appreciated. I am so grateful that I was placed with such nice people. I hope they come to NYC to visit!
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4. Meeting so many new people. Everyone at the World Games was so unbelievably friendly. People actually said “Good morning” and walked around with smiles on their faces. In part, I believe it was the California weather affecting people’s moods. However, I also believe that everyone recognized how amazing this experience was, and no one wanted to ruin it.

I was able to meet people from all over the world! I even volunteered with a lady from India. In the past, she had gone to many World Games as the Head Coach of the Indian delegation, but this year, Special Olympics India told her to relax a little and only be a volunteer.

Here are some photos of people I met:

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Here is an athlete’s LA 2015 inspired hairdo. You can see the Reach Up LA logo. So cool!

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Here I am with an athlete from Venezuela. He came and introduced himself to all of the Fan Zone volunteers.

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Here is a photo with me and some of the Special Olympics Unified cheerleaders. They came from all over the country to cheer on the athletes.

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She won gold in horseback riding!

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Here’s a really sweet pug and his owner! His name is Zeus!

5. Traveling around LA. I love traveling to new places and having new adventures. Before going to LA for the World Games, Indiana was the farthest west I had ever been. Now that I’ve been all of the way to California, I can’t wait to go back! In a quick recap, I went to Malibu (and swam in the Pacific Ocean!), Santa Monica, Venice Beach (and saw Muscle Beach and the canals), the lights at LACMA, the Tar Pit, the handprints and stars in Hollywood (and put my hands in Daniel Radcliffe’s!), the LA Memorial Coliseum, a UCB show, the Griffith Observatory, and the Hollywood Bowl.

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This experience was absolutely amazing, and I can’t believe that it was almost a month ago. Volunteering at the Special Olympics World Games changed my life by showing me how big the world really is, how much more I want to do and see, how much I love helping and interacting with people, and how inspiring the human spirit can be. I’m excited to have more experiences like this, both with Special Olympics and elsewhere.

A Night to Remember: The LA 2015 Opening Ceremony

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Me at the Opening Ceremony

It’s crazy how fast time goes! On July 25, about 2 weeks ago, I went to the LA 2015 Opening Ceremony. That ceremony was so inspiring, and it really solidified my passion for the Olympic Movement.

The day started off with a trip to the Griffith Observatory, a really cool place to sightsee and to learn about science. Outside, there are amazing views, and I could see the Hollywood sign! Inside, there is a Tesla coil, planetarium, telescope, and sun analyzer. It was a really amazing way to start off my trip!

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Me outside of the Griffith Observatory

After that, I left for the Opening Ceremony. Before coming to LA, I didn’t expect the Metro to be as spread out as it was. Thankfully, I was staying near the Red Line, but my trips always ended up being an hour or longer. It was very obvious that people in LA usually drive everywhere. Along the way, I met a very chatty and nice woman who was also going to the Opening Ceremony. She was a proud parent of an athlete and showed me a shirt with his team’s photo on it. I also met someone who I stayed with for most of the time before the Ceremony. She was a local of California and was volunteering too! We got in line together with people from Special Olympics New York I knew, and the the waiting began. I was so excited for the ceremony and the entire week!

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Team New York

President Obama began the Opening Ceremony via video because he was in Kenya. After that, a few celebrities and athletes spoke, and then, it was the Parade of Athletes! I loved everyone’s outfits. Some were in standard Opening Ceremony uniforms while others dressed in traditional clothes from their countries.

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Look at the lady right next to the gray tarp. She’s in the center of the frame.

Cheering for 165 countries can become very tiring, but the fans never quit. Even though the United States was the host country (and thus had the most fans), we cheered as hard as we could for every country in order to celebrate how amazing all of the athletes were. The woman with the flag in the photograph to the left was one of the best fans I saw. She was so loud and so excited that it made everyone loud and excited! When Team USA came onto the field, the crowd went wild. Everyone in the stadium started chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and screaming.

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Team USA!

Once the Parade of Athletes ended, Timothy Shriver (Chairman of the Special Olympics and the son of the founder of Special Olympics), Maria Shriver (a famous journalist and the daughter of the founder of Special Olympics), and some Special Olympics Global Messengers gave speeches.

Here is everyone reciting the Athlete’s Oath. It goes, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” This forms the basic foundation for all of Special Olympics.

Later in the night, four Olympic athletes and four Special Olympic athletes carried the Special Olympics flag onto the stage and hoisted it up the pole. That was a very special moment for me because I love the Olympics so much, and I loved seeing athletes from the Olympics and the Special Olympics working together. Michael Phelps, Greg Louganis, Michelle Kwan, and Nadia Comaneci were able to join the Special Olympic athletes in their Ceremony, and they were so happy to be there.

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My favorite speech of the night was Tim’s. Tim is a Special Olympics athlete and the founder of Tim’s Place, a restaurant that serves all meals with a hug! He told everyone that dreams do come true because his dream to own a restaurant did! He introduced Michelle Obama onto the stage, and she declared the Games to be open.

The end of the Torch Run from Athens to LA came next. After seeing the World Games celebration in Bryant Park that was toward the beginning of the Torch Run, it was amazing to see the end. Avril Lavigne sang “Fly,” her song that was written just for Special Olympics, and Special Olympic athletes and Law Enforcement officers used the Flame of Hope to light the Olympic Cauldron for the first time since 1984. Fireworks erupted around the stadium, and everyone cheered in unity. The Games were now open! The whole thing made me cry because it was so beautiful.

The Opening Ceremony was one of the best experiences of my entire life, and I am so grateful to have been a part of it. This is just the beginning of my recount of LA. In the next few days, look out for my next posts about volunteering!

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Countdown to the World Games: Day 2 and Day 1!

I realize this should have come out on Thursday, but I was traveling then! I’m in LA now, and it’s incredible to see how excited about the Games everyone is here. Even the people at the airport were wearing World Games pins on their lanyards. This is my last recount in the Countdown to the Games, and then I’ll start posting about what I’m doing in LA!

IMG_5245The Flame of Hope came to New York City this summer, and this was the most magical moment of my involvement at Special Olympics thus far. I’m sure tonight will be even more! The Torch Run leading up to the World Games started in Athens, and incredibly, that same flame was brought to New York for its portion of the Torch Run. After leaving the city, the flame has traveled throughout the United States, and on Saturday, the final leg of the Torch Run will carry the Flame of Hope into the Opening Ceremony, where I’ll get to see it in a few hours!

Before the Torch Run ran into Bryant Park, I was able to bond with Thomas, one of the World Games athletes, and Doug, his dad, by playing mini golf in the Special Olympics New York office. By the time we had to leave, the mini golf game had turned into an extreme obstacle course version. Even in a small mini golf game in the office, Thomas (the World Games athlete) and his dad (also a Special Olympics athlete) were being competitive athletes.

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Once we got to the park, we were greeted by friendly Bank of America volunteers. There was a tent with a photo booth where people could take pictures with signs. Doug and I took this picture and pledged to pass the flame for happiness. I’d say we look pretty happy!

Finally, the torchbearers ran the Flame of Hope into Bryant Park while everyone cheered. It was such a beautiful moment. I took photos from behind them just because that was the only free space, and it’s amazing to see all of the people filming, clapping, and supporting the torchbearers. My sister came with me, and she took the image from the front, which is equally powerful.

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IMG_5272After the excitement of the torchbearers, there were speeches. The most notable ones for me were Thomas’s and the CEO of Special Olympics International’s. You could tell that Thomas was nervous (who wouldn’t be?), but his speech was excellent. He thanked everyone and talked about how great Special Olympics has been for him. The CEO, Janet Froetscher, had a similar message in her speech. I was so starstruck by her because I have done school projects on her and Special Olympics. I was able to see her in real life!

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IMG_8574Later during the celebration, I was actually able to meet her. I was incredibly nervous, but there was no reason to be! She was extremely nice and even gave me her business card.

The next day, I was able to join Thomas for his portion of the Torch Run. He was with Deborah Norville of Inside Edition and a large group of Bank of America volunteers. For most of the time, we were just waiting around for Tara Lipinski and her group to pass the flame. Here are some photos of us waiting. I loved holding the torch!

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Next, Tara Lipinski came, passed the flame, and off they went! It was an incredible experience, and it’s crazy how fast it happened! I love how the World Games brings together everyone, just like the Torch Run did. Celebrities, staff, volunteers, fundraisers, coaches, camera crews, bystanders, and athletes are all able to share a part of the journey. It’s a true Unified experience!
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It’s less than four hours until the Opening Ceremony! I can’t wait! 🙂