From SONY to SOSC

May 13 was my last day at Special Olympics New York City. I was really sad to leave because the employees and athletes had become my family. I will definitely volunteer with them again in the fall because interning at Special Olympics NYC changed my life. I started out very quiet but determined to be a good intern, and I ended as a super intern with a really strong passion for Special Olympics!

IMG_2151.jpgHere is a look back at my five favorite parts of interning at Special Olympics NYC:

  1. Fall State Games

This was my first State Games as an intern, and I really enjoyed it! It was different from my first New York State Games because I actually knew a lot of the staff and the athletes, and I was there with my friends/co-workers from Special Olympics NYC, Amy, Kaitlin, Sam, and Bill. I was stationed at Equestrian, which was so much fun to see. Before that, I had never seen Special Olympics Equestrian because NYC doesn’t have it. All in all, it was a magical experience. Seeing the love Special Olympics athletes have for their sports while they’re competing makes me so happy, and that love was definitely there all day.

Here’s my blog post about the Fall State Games:    https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/special-olympics-new-york-fall-state-games/

2. Metro Tournament

This was my first Special Olympics NYC competition, and it took place May 30, 2015, right after I started my internship. This day was so exciting, and it gave me a really good look into Special Olympics. I met some awesome athletes, including three athletes who ran the Flame of Hope in with Law Enforcement officers, Valerie (who won a gold medal at the National Games), Thomas (who would compete at the World Games later in the summer), and Doug (Thomas’ dad and also a fierce Special Olympics competitor). I took photos throughout the day, and being given free reign to wander around the competition allowed me to fully immerse myself in Special Olympics. My favorite event was the Powerlifting because each Powerlifter competed with a different persona (see the photo below of the Skullcrusher).

Here’s my blog post about the Metro Tournament:    https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/countdown-to-the-world-games-day-3/

3. Halloween!

Although this wasn’t an official Special Olympics event, it still is one of my favorite moments while working at Special Olympics New York. Luckily Halloween fell on a Friday, so I was able to celebrate it while at the office! The day contained a lot of eating, sugar highs, scaring people with masks, and a piñata! It was a really fun day spent being with my Special Olympics family. ❤

4. Winter State Games

These Games had some of the best competition that I’ve seen since I’ve started working for Special Olympics. Thanks to a really nice volunteer photographer, I was able to see Cross-Country Skiing, Alpine Skiing, Snowshoe, and Figure Skating, in addition to watching the Opening Ceremony and dancing in the Closing Ceremony! Watching the skiing and snowshoe competitions was really fun because I have no background in those sports. I had never even watched someone ski in real life before! Of course, the Figure Skating was still my favorite. I love watching the athletes play to the audience and seeing the audience react with cheers and applause.

Here’s my blog post about the 2016 Winter State Games: https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/the-2016-winter-state-games/

5. Anytime with Special Olympics Athletes

Special Olympics athletes are some of the best people I know. After a year at Special Olympics New York, I know how hard they work to accomplish everything they do, and it’s really amazing and inspiring.

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It has been an incredible year at Special Olympics New York City. Last summer, I said I pass the flame for happiness, and Special Olympics does mean happiness for me.  Even though I left Special Olympics New York, I’m carrying that flame of happiness with me to my internship at Special Olympics Southern California this summer. Thank you to everyone who made Special Olympics New York special. 🙂

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The 2016 Winter State Games

One of the things that makes me happiest is Special Olympics competitions. I love supporting the athletes, and I love watching them win. This past weekend at Special Olympics New York’s Winter State Games, I was able to do just that, which probably explains why I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the Games.

Special Olympics New York’s Winter State Games, one of three state competitions where athletes from around New York qualify to compete, was held February 19 and 20 in Poughkeepsie, New York. The town of Poughkeepsie was an amazing host and even put up Special Olympics New York flags around the town and featured our athletes on the front page of the newspaper.

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The Games started with an Opening Ceremony in the Mid-Hudson Civic Center. The amount of love and support inside of the Civic Center was astounding. The stands were completely filled, the lines of volunteers cheering and high fiving athletes during the Parade of Athletes were tireless and loud, and the speeches were heartfelt. Many people from the community who had done a lot of work planning the Games spoke, as well as Thomas Adimari, the Hudson Valley athlete who competed in Tennis at the World Games. After the speeches and the Athletes’ Oath, it was time for the torch to be run in.

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IMG_8710At every State Games, law enforcement officers run alongside an athlete carrying the Flame of Hope. Together, they light the cauldron together. This is always my favorite part, and this time definitely didn’t disappoint.

The next day, I was able to go to two different venues, thanks to one of my friends who is a very good Special Olympics volunteer photographer. First, we went to Holiday Mountain, where the Cross-Country Skiing, Alpine Skiing, and Snowshoe took place.

IMG_8755Because there wasn’t enough snow, the Cross-Country Skiing competition was held on a field that was packed with snow. Volunteers had marked lanes for each skier to go down. It was really fun to watch! I hadn’t seen anything like it before, and the competition was very fast-paced with a lot of volunteers cheering the athletes. Snowshoe was held on the same course, but it was later in the day.

While at Holiday Mountain, I also watched Alpine Skiing. The athletes skied down the hill and had to go around gates. It looked like the slalom event in the Olympics.

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After skiing, we traveled to the Figure Skating, which I was very happy to see. Many of the skaters who I saw at last year’s State Games were there, so it was cool to recognize them and to know some of their names. While watching the skaters, I got chills because their routines were all so beautiful, and I could tell that they put their hearts and souls into everything they did on the ice. All of the skaters had fun routines. One of my favorite routines was a skater who dressed like Charlie Brown and skated to Linus and Lucy’s theme. There was also someone who performed to “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift and another skater who skated to a song from Grease and dressed like a Pink Lady.

Then, around 8 pm, Closing Ceremony or the Victory Dance was held. I missed this last year, so this was a new experience for me. Basically, all of the athletes and a lot of the staff and coaches let loose and dance together. The athletes wear their medals and celebrate their accomplishments. Although we were all very tired by that time, we had fun. And then, the Winter Games were over for another year, and everyone went home happier than they had been. Athletes had more medals to celebrate and add to their collection, volunteers had new experiences to cherish, and I had another memory to add to my Special Olympics journey.

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Some of the athletes at the Closing Ceremony

The Olympics in Bryant Park

On a very cold night on February 5, I joined Nicole and Lena (Special Olympics New York athletes), Adam Rippon (the 2016 U.S. National Champion), Caydee Denning and John Coughlin (the 2012 U.S. National Champions), and the Skyliners (a synchronized ice skating team) at the Bryant Park ice skating rink. The show was absolutely beautiful to watch.

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The Special Olympics New York crew with Adam Rippon

I went to this event last year (see here for that blog post), but this one was even better. Lena, a Special Olympics athlete from Queens, spoke at the beginning to welcome all of the spectators to the show. She was really able to play to the crowd, and by the end of her speech, I could tell that everyone couldn’t wait for the show to start. Bank of America, the sponsor of the event, also spoke, and they presented Special Olympics New York with a $10,000 check!

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Nicole and Lena with the check!

It was really fun to be backstage with all of the athletes, and I was able to talk to them before and after they went on the ice. Nicole, a Special Olympian from Syracuse, went first, and she skated with so much passion. She was a real artist on the ice.

 

After Nicole, the pair went. They performed last year, and they seemed to have only gotten better. I couldn’t believe all the tricks they did! I’m pretty sure I watched their entire show with my mouth wide open. It was incredible.

The Skyliners were next. I had never seen a synchronized ice skating team before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect there to be so many skaters! Their performance was beautiful to watch because they were so fluid in their motions. Everyone flowed together perfectly.

Caydee and John did another small performance to keep the crowd’s excitement up because by that time, it was bitterly cold. Last, Adam Rippon performed. His skating was more like modern dance. He had all of the technical elements there, but he also invoked so much emotion into his performance. It’s not hard to see how he won the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

All in all, it was an amazing experience. I was able to watch beautiful performances in person with my friends next to me. It was a real showcase of the magic of the Olympic Movement.

 

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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A Look Ahead to the Winter State Games

It’s less than one month to Special Olympics New York’s Winter State Games, and I’m excited! They begin on February 19 with the Opening Ceremonies and then continue on Saturday with Floor Hockey, Figure Skating, Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing, and Snowshoe. The Games will be held in the Hudson Valley this year, which is so close to NYC!

Because it’s less than a month to the Games, here’s a little about what to expect.

11402994_10205095091596684_5058970810769487803_nFloor Hockey

Special Olympics’ Floor Hockey is different from what you might expect mainly because the equipment is different from standard hockey equipment. The puck has a hole in the middle, and players use sticks without the flat part at the bottom to move it around. Only goalies have regular hockey sticks. It’s really fun to watch because everyone is so competitive and passionate about the game. Here are some photos from the 2015 Winter State Games and the 2015 Peter Aquilone Memorial Floor Hockey Tournament.

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Floor Hockey Skills

Figure Skating

This is my favorite winter sport because it’s so beautiful to watch. I can’t ice skate at all, so that makes it even more special. I volunteered at the Figure Skating last year, and these skaters are so good! They were doing jumps and skating with only one leg while making everything look so easy as they danced across the ice. I’ll be volunteering at this event again this year!

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Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing, and Snowshoe

I have never seen the other events, Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing, and Snowshoe, but they always look like fun. Here are some photos of these events from 2015 that I borrowed from Special Olympics New York’s SmugMug page:

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I hope you’re now as excited for the Special Olympics New York Winter State Games as I am!

Here is a blog post where I go into a lot more detail about my experience at the 2015 Winter State Games: https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/countdown-to-the-world-games-day-5/

Thanks for reading!

 

Plunging into the Cold

In honor of the blizzard yesterday, here is a blog post about the two Special Olympics Polar Plunges I participated in last year.

Special Olympics is known for its Polar Plunges. In different states, they are known as Polar Bear Plunges or Penguin Plunges, but in New York, they are Polar Plunges. Basically, a Polar Plunge is where people in the community raise money for Special Olympics, and then they come together to plunge into icy waters to celebrate. Some Special Olympic athletes even raise money and plunge. Special Olympics New York City has three plunges every year: Westchester, Staten Island, and the Rockaways.

The Rockaways is early in the year, so I missed that one for 2015. However, I volunteered at the Westchester and Staten Island Polar Plunges, and I’m planning on going to the 2016 Rockaways Plunge on March 12 at Jacob Riis Park.

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Westchester Polar Plunge

The Westchester Plunge happened November 14. It was held in a very beautiful park just outside the city in Westchester County, New York, and it was very cold and windy that day. I was in charge of assigning volunteer roles, and my favorite part of my job was picking who could wear the polar bear costume and the chicken costume. (The polar bear is the mascot of the Polar Plunge, and the chicken is for those who are too chicken to plunge.)

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Staten Island Polar Plunge

The Staten Island Polar Plunge was next! It happened December 6 at the Vanderbilt in Staten Island, and I was in charge of the volunteers there too. Both of the plunges were huge successes and raised over $95,000 each! Special Olympics New York City is so lucky that it has such committed people in the community who not only raise money for our athletes, but also show their support by running into extremely cold water.

For both plunges, it was fun and inspiring to see the huge amounts of people from the community who had raised money for Special Olympics. They were so excited for the day. I didn’t plunge at the Westchester Plunge, but I did in Staten Island. After Staten Island, I can understand why people do it. Yes, it was freezing, but it was also exhilarating. After helping the plunges raise so much money for Special Olympics, it felt awesome to toast the success by plunging!

Here are some photos from both of the events:

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Here is a video of me plunging. I’m happy that my supervisor, Kaitlin, did it with me!

 

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!