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 Things You See In Times Square

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You don’t get to see the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team performing in Times Square every day. Thank goodness I was there to see it happen on September 24! The synchronized swimmers performed routines every fifteen minutes in a large tank in the middle of Times Square near the TKTS steps, and it was so cool!

The whole event was designed to promote Epson’s new printer, the ecotank. There was a tent set up next to the tank that was filled with printers, so people could actually try them out. This event was called #SwimmingInInk because the synchronized swimmers were actually swimming in a tank, which represented the printer, with four colors, which represented the printer’s ink. It was an ingenious way to market the new printer.

I watched the routines for a very long time because the performances were so captivating. I loved watching them!

Here are some more photos:

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The swimmers wore different swim suits depending on what routine they were doing. I was able to talk to the creator of the suits, Andrea Robertson. Her company, Triflare, creates very bold and colorful activewear for triathlon athletes. The U.S. Synchronized Swimming Team will wear these beautiful suits at the 2016 Olympics!

Inside the tent full of printers, there was a Step and Repeat where you could take a photo with some of the synchronized swimmers. I was lucky enough to have mine taken with two synchronized swimmers, Anita Alvarez and Mariya Koroleva, who already qualified as a duet for Rio!

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Kerri Strug, one of my favorite Olympians, was at this event as well! She spoke during a few of the breaks between the routines and gave the synchronized swimmers advice about the Olympics throughout the day.

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Kerri Strug competed at the 1992 Olympics and won a bronze medal in the team competition; however, her real Olympic moment happened at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Here’s a video on what happened:

 

Kerri Strug is a true Olympic hero and truly speaks to beauty of the Olympic Movement. I’m so happy that I was able to meet her and ask her a few questions for this blog. I asked her what her favorite part of the Olympic Movement was, and she replied that it was the athletes because they show everyone that achieving your dreams is possible. I also asked her if she was planning on going to the Olympics in Rio, and she said she wasn’t sure. She’s been to every Summer Olympics since Atlanta, but she usually doesn’t know until closer to the date.

She was only able to talk for a little because she had to leave for the airport, but I was so excited about every second of it. It’s amazing to have met one of the Olympic heroes that inspire me, and I think it’s awesome that she was able to help the aspiring U.S. Synchronized Swimming Olympic athletes. #SwimmingInInk was a success for U.S. Synchronized Swimming, Epson’s ecotank, and The Olympics of Blogs!

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A Walk Through The LA Memorial Coliseum

When I was in LA, Boston dropped out of the race to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, and it was rumored that LA would go for it. This ended up being correct! Because of this, I decided to go on a self-guided tour of the LA Memorial Coliseum. The LA Memorial Coliseum was the site of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics, the site of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, and would be the site of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2024 Summer Olympics if LA is selected. The LA Memorial Coliseum has so much Olympic history!

I was so excited to tour this place. Unfortunately, I just missed the guided tour, but I actually think that the self-guided tour was better. I could walk wherever I wanted.

IMG_9124IMG_9122Above is the view of the LA Memorial Coliseum while walking up to it. Although I knew the construction wasn’t related to LA’s Olympic bid (because it was happening before Boston pulled out), it still made me feel hopeful that LA 2024 might happen. It was obviously a good sign!

On the right is a photo of me with the cauldron that was lit in 1932, 1984, and 2015! It is hard to see from my selfie, but that cauldron was burning brightly for the Special Olympics!

While I was walking around, it was so inspiring to imagine how it felt in 1932 or 1984.

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I walked in through one of the stadium entrances, and there was this 1984 Memorial. It commemorated every athlete who won a gold medal in the 1984 Games. I was in awe standing in front of it. The people who were featured on this and had won gold medals had once stood where I was.

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As I continued walking, I found this plaque commemorating Jesse Owens, one of the most inspiring Olympians ever. Even though he hadn’t competed in the 1932 Games, he was still remembered. It made me wonder if he has a plaque in every Olympic stadium and if he has a huge plaque in Berlin, the site of the 1936 Olympics (where he competed).

After seeing those cool plaques, I began wandering around the stadium. It’s huge! My ultimate goal was to walk to the center of the stadium and go to the top. Here are some photos I took during my walk around the stadium.

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Here is the view from the top:

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It was so amazing to sit up at the top and drink in all of the Olympic memories. I could easily imagine the entire stadium filled with fans who were cheering athletes. According to the University of South California’s website, there are 93,607 seats,and I bet all of those were filled in 1984 and 1932!

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After sitting for awhile, I continued walking around the stadium. It was funny because I could see the guided tour as they moved around the stadium. They were moving pretty slowly, so it was easy to catch up with them. It was very tempting to subtly slip into the tour, but they were moving way to slow for me.

Once I left them, I found the press section! Here it is:

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I sat in one of the seats, and it had an awesome view.

I continued walking, and I found another Olympic Memorial. This one was for 1932. I think that if I could have entered through the main entrance, the 1932 and 1984 memorials would have been on either side of me. This memorial had all of the gold medalists of the 1932 Olympics. I managed to get a nice construction worker to take a photo of me in front of this memorial.

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It was very exciting to wander around the site of so much Olympic history. So many athletes had come through this stadium to have their Olympic moment. I really hope that the 2024 Olympic athletes can add to the history of the LA Memorial Coliseum. Fingers crossed for LA 2024!

Here’s the part of USC’s website where I found information about the LA Memorial Coliseum:

http://www.usctrojans.com/facilities/usc-memorial-coliseum.html

Important Things to Know About the 2024 Olympics

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Even though 2024 is nine years away, the 2024 Olympics are in the planning process. I was unbelievably excited for a large part of this year because I thought Boston might have a chance at hosting that Olympics. Backed by Team USA, Boston 2024 put together a strong bid to host the 2024 Olympics, but at the end of July, it pulled out.

I was really disappointed for a few reasons. One, the Olympics in Boston would have brought the Olympics more into my sphere of the world. Boston is so close to NYC, and all of the upcoming host cities are so far away! I was also disappointed because I was preparing to go to Boston to volunteer. Way back in July, I almost booked a bus to Boston to volunteer this Labor Day weekend. Thank goodness I didn’t!

In May, I participated in a monthly Boston 2024 All Volunteer Call, which described the process of applying to host the Olympics and what could be expected of volunteers. During the call, a real Olympic athlete spoke to us! Her name was Gevvie Stone, and she competed in the London 2012 Olympic Rowing! The best part was that I talked to her! I asked her if she was going to compete in Rio (she is planning on it), but she said she wasn’t planning on competing in Boston 2024.

Now, however, it appears that LA, the host city for the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, is taking up the bid! LA’s decision was just announced today! I’m so excited la-24-e1440553449211because it is still in USA, and I love LA! The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously in favor of the bid today. In a press release today, U.S. Olympic Committee’s CEO, Scott Blackmun said, “L.A. has the proven experience in hosting the Games, and knows how to deliver world-class events for athletes and an extraordinary experience for fans. Coupled with the city’s culture of creativity and innovation, we are confident L.A. can deliver an outstanding Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024.”

LA had to decide by September 15, which is the date when the U.S. Olympic Committee has to submit its complete proposal to the International Olympic Committee. I think LA 2024 will be more successful than Boston because LA has done this twice before, so their budget will be less since they have a lot of the necessary venues. According to NBC LA and the New York Times, LA’s proposed budget and proposed income should leave LA with a profit.

Although LA had to put forth a proposal bid by September 15, it can revise it until late 2016.

The host of the 2024 Summer Games will be announced in Summer 2017. LA 2024’s four main competitors are Rome, Hamburg, Paris, and Budapest.

Here are some great articles that explain the process and outcomes:

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Los-Angeles-Olympics-Bid-Summer-Games-2024-323205911.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/sports/olympics/los-angeles-unveils-plan-for-2024-olympic-bid.html?_r=0

Here is an article that explains LA’s decision today:

http://olympictalk.nbcsports.com/2015/09/01/los-angeles-2024-olympic-bid-la2024-usoc/?utm_network=facebook&utm_post=4167021&utm_source=FB%20-%20NBC%20Olympics&utm_tags=srm%5Bolympics%2Carticle%5D

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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The Women’s National Team in New York City!

One week ago today, I was reminded of why New York City is the best place to live when the Women’s National Soccer Team came!

It was the first ever Ticker Tape parade for a women’s sports team, and it was definite progress for women to finally be recognized as equal to men in sports. The Women’s National Team was incredible in the final of the World Cup, and New York City (and the world!) recognized it. It was a historical moment, and I was so lucky that my school (and where I work in the summer) is right across the street from the ending point of the parade! Although I wasn’t able to watch the parade, I could still watch the speeches at the end. Here’s a video of the parade my supervisor at Special Olympics New York took.


The area was the most crowded I have ever seen it with so many fans were swarming everywhere. People must have gotten there around 6 in the morning. Thankfully, I was able to see it from the sixth floor of my school, so I could arrive by 9 and still do my job.

Throughout the day, I checked outside every half hour to see if the team was there yet. This was my first Ticker Tape parade, and I was so excited! It was so cool to watch people in office buildings throw paper out the window. It felt a little bit like the world had gone mad, but I liked it all the same.

Finally, the soccer team arrived and sat on the stage right in front of City Hall.

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Here’s a photo of them sitting on the stage.

Robin Roberts, Abby Wambach, and Mayor De Blasio spoke, and after each one, I could hear everyone’s cheers through the windows. The fan support was amazing. I hope that each soccer player knows how proud the fans of Team USA are of them.

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Here are Robin Roberts and Abby Wambach on the big screen.

At the end, everyone celebrated with confetti! The wind was perfect last Friday and blew the confetti toward the Brooklyn Bridge. It blew around the windows and followed me as I walked back to the elevator. It was a perfect end to a perfect celebration. Here’s a video of the confetti.