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!

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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Special Olympics New York’s Fall State Games!

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Sam, Amy, Me, and Kaitlin

Special Olympics New York’s Fall State Games were October 16 and 17 in Glens Falls, NY. While there, I spent all of my time with my Special Olympics family (pictured to the left). Together, we took in the beauty of Lake George and the Adirondack Mountains and helped our athletes achieve gold. It was an amazing weekend!

I drove up with the Development Team to Glens Falls, and it was a really fun road trip! We went apple picking, and it was refreshing to take our time along the way. We talked a lot, and I’m so happy that I work with all of them.

Opening Ceremony started at 8 pm on that Friday, and we made it in time to see the athletes at the Olympic Village. It looked like a pretty awesome party! I was so happy I could say hi to some of the athletes I met at other competitions.

Almost 1000 athletes from all over the state came to Glens Falls to compete in a variety of sports. There was Unified Golf, Cross Country, Equestrian, Bocce, Soccer, and Softball. Every single one of those athletes, regardless of region or sport, was extremely excited for the Opening Ceremony to begin!

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Some NYC athletes during the Opening Ceremony

IMG_7705The Opening Ceremony featured a parade of athletes, two dance teams, a Broadway singer, speeches, and the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Watching people run the torch in and light the cauldron definitely builds the excitement in the room, and that’s why the Torch Run is always one of my favorite parts of Opening Ceremonies. After the Torch Run, the Games were declared open!

The next morning, Kaitlin and I had to be up extremely early for Equestrian. I was really excited because I love horses, and I also love Special Olympics competitions. Definitely, Equestrian did not disappoint. In the morning, athletes competed in English riding, and in the afternoon, they competed in Western. When they weren’t competing, they just had fun together.

Here are some photos from the event:

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These two best friends were so happy to each win a gold and a silver medal!

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She decided to start interviewing her friends with Channel 6’s microphone!

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This mini pony was named Bolt!

Last weekend was spent doing what I love with people I love. It was a magical experience that makes me look forward to the next State Games in February. 🙂

“Smiling Is My Favorite Sport.”

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Time to play softball!

Last Saturday, Special Olympics New York – New York City hosted a Regional Softball Tournament on Randall’s Island. While there, athletes competed on softball teams or in individual skills. Both types of softball were really exciting to watch, and as always, the athletes didn’t disappoint. They were so happy to be there. One of the softball skills athletes even told me, “Smiling is my favorite sport,” which of course made me smile. That athlete then proceeded to win gold in his division, and his smile was huge. He won in softball skills and at his favorite sport, smiling.

It was a really fun day for the athletes, staff, volunteers, and referees. It was beautiful outside, and everyone was happy to be outside on such a nice day. The day began with the athletes warming up, volunteers arriving, and the Parade of Athletes, which is always my favorite part. Volunteers formed two lines, and athletes from every team and borough run in the middle and high five or hug every volunteer. An athlete even stuck his arms out, so he could high five both sides of volunteers. It really built the excitement for the volunteers and the athletes.

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Laura Behnke, a sports anchor at WABC, was the MC of the event. She welcomed everyone there, and then the two IMG_6653selected athletes ran in with the torch. They were from the Manhattan Wildcats because Manhattan was hosting the tournament. By this time, we were all so excited for the games to start, but first, an athlete had to lead everyone in the Athletes’ Oath. Everyone, including the volunteers, repeated “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” And with that, it was time for the day to begin!

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I traveled around the fields taking photos throughout the day. I had never been that close to a softball game, so it was a very cool and new experience for me. At first, I was worried that I would mess the players up if I was on the field taking photos, but one of the coaches told me the athletes loved it. I’m really glad that I watched part of the Little League World Series this summer because I was able to understand more of what was happening.

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This was my first time really watching Special Olympics teams interact, and I loved it. The teams were true teams; they were all in it together. If someone struck out and was upset, at least two of his or her teammates came over and helped that person feel better. They knew, unlike most sports teams, that one of the goals was to win but the other goal was to be teamplayers.

The skills portion of the tournament happened at the same time as the softball games, and I really enjoyed watching it. Some athletes who competed in skills came with teams, and some didn’t. Athletes competed in hitting, fielding, throwing, and base running. The goal of skills is to include athletes who are still learning the type of skills needed to play on a team.

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Hitting

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Fielding

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Throwing

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Base Running

After the skills were over, it was time for the Awards Ceremony! This was one of my favorite parts of the day because no matter what medal the athletes won, they were still so excited and proud of themselves.

Here are some of the photos of athletes celebrating their medals in style:

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