My Experience at the Austria 2017 World Winter Games

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With the mascots!

One week ago today, the Closing Ceremony for the Austria 2017 World Winter Games happened, and although it’s sad that the Games are over, I had such an amazing time that I can only feel grateful. The people who live in Graz welcomed all of the athletes, volunteers, families, and coaches and made the World Games into a special experience.

My last day volunteering was March 23, and it was one of the best days of my life. I volunteered for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP). I ran the soccer station, and it was really fun to see the athletes get recognized and cheered for by Unified cheerleaders, their caretakers, and their Unified partners. It was awesome to see all of them up on stage receiving medals and smiling so wide! Later that night, I just made it to watch Eloise, a British figure skater whose parents I had become friends with on the bus to the Opening Ceremony, compete in her free skate and win seventh in the world in Level 4 Figure Skating! After watching Figure Skating for a long time, I went to a special party held to thank volunteers and tried a lot of Austrian desserts with people who had also been volunteering at MATP. That day, my heart felt so full of love and happiness. There’s no other place in the world where you are able to meet people from so many different countries and cultures and become friends with them.

At the 1987 World Games, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, said, “You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.” That definitely happened at this World Games where 2,700 athletes from 107 countries competed. Medals were won, friendships were made, and the world was changed. We, the volunteers, spectators, families, Special Olympics staff, and the people of Graz made these Games special for the athletes. They truly were the stars of the Games.

Some of the best moments of the Games for me were:

  • Meeting athletes from around the world and cheering them on, especially those from Team USA, Team Canada, Team Great Britain, Team Austria, and Team South Africa!
  • Becoming an honorary member of Team South Africa and getting to eat lunch with them and seeing them compete!
  • Becoming friends with fans and volunteers from around the world!
  • Meeting Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics and Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s son.
  • Meeting Mary Davis, the CEO of Special Olympics International, again (she gave a presentation at Pace University last year!).
  • Experiencing the culture of Graz.
  • Getting to see some of the people I had met at previous volunteer experiences/internships again.
  • Dancing with Team Austria on the first night I got to Graz and doing the conga line with them!
  • The award ceremony for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP). The athletes were so happy to get medals, and they loved the applause!

Here’s a video summarizing my trip!

Trading Tuesday: Austria 2017

unnamedThis pin is the perfect choice for this week’s Trading Tuesday because I just made it today! Currently, I’m volunteering at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. This pin is awesome because I ❤ Special Olympics, and it’s really cool to have my picture on a pin!

I have been having a wonderful time meeting athletes, fans, and volunteers from around the world. People are completely open with friendship, and they are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. So many people have helped me since I’ve come here and gone out of their way to do so. I think everyone recognizes that we are here for the athletes. This is their time, and by making sure the focus is on them, the athletes’ happiness, kindness, and openness is able inspire everyone else. I know I belong within the Special Olympics community because it is one huge, international family, and these Games have confirmed that. Even if people have different abilities, languages, races, or religions, Special Olympics proves that everyone can come together and find similarities.

Saturday night was the Opening Ceremony in Schladming, and I’m so happy I was able to go. It was so beautiful. The entire ceremony focused on the athletes as the stars. Even though it was pouring and bitterly cold the entire time, the stands were completely filled, and it didn’t stop people from cheering for each country as it paraded out into the stadium.

In Messe Graz, the place where Floor Hockey and Floor Ball are located and where I’m volunteering, there is a Coca Cola station where you can take a picture holding a Special Olympics pillow, and then have it made into a pin. Coca Cola is one of the sponsors of the Games, and they had such a cool idea with these pins.

My last day volunteering is on Thursday. So far, I’ve been working in the cafeteria where athletes, coaches, staff, and volunteers eat, but tomorrow and Thursday, I’m volunteering for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP).

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Go Team USA! Go Special Olympics!

The Austria 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games

2017WorldGamesAustrialogoStarting with the Opening Ceremony on March 18, the Special Olympics World Winter Games will be held in Graz, Austria! The Flame of Hope has already been lit and has started traveling on its way to Austria. The sports of these Games will be Figure Skating, Speed Skating, Floor Hockey, Floorball, Snowshoeing, Alpine Skiing, Nordic Skiing, Snowboarding, and Stick Shooting. Special Olympics New York City’s Unified Floor Hockey team and two of Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s speed skaters will be competing!

ESPN will be airing live coverage of the Games. Here is the schedule. I’ll be volunteering at the Games and will be at the Opening Ceremony, so make sure to look for me!

Saturday, March 18, 2-5 pm EST, ABC – Live: Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 Opening Ceremony

Sunday, March 19, 2-3 pm EST, ABC – Coverage of the Games

Monday, March 20, 6-6:30 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Tuesday, March 21, 6-7 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Wednesday, March 22, 6-7 pm ESt, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Thursday, March 23, 6-7 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Friday, March 24, 6-7 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Sunday, March 26, 2-3 pm EST, ABC – Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 – Best of the Games

Last Day in Rio

Unfortunately, my Rio adventure ends today. Tonight, I leave for the U.S., and although I’m excited to come back and see everyone I’ve missed, it’s still really hard to say goodbye to all the friends I’ve made here and to this beautiful city. Obrigada, Rio.

When I started this adventure two years ago when I applied to volunteer, I could guess that it would be amazing, but I really had no idea that this would be the best thing I have ever done. Thank you to Rio, thank you to all the people I met and became friends with, and thank you to everyone who supported me from home. For the past few weeks, everyone has been filled with the Olympic spirit, and I’ve seen a side of humanity that you don’t usually get to see. Through sport, people united. This experience was incredible, and my favorite part was all the people.

Sunday night, the Olympic flame went out, but the spirit of the Olympics will live on until Tokyo, and I’ll see it there!

Volunteering at the Olympics has taught me so much, provided me with a new perspective of the world and my place in it,  and given me a lot of new goals. Experiencing the Olympics firsthand as a volunteer and a spectator has confirmed that I want to work for this incredible Movement.

See you later, Brazil, and see you in four years, Tokyo!

Here’s a recap video of my last few days in Brazil! ❤️

Olympics Update

Hi everyone!

My time in Rio is starting to wind down, which is very bittersweet. Yesterday, I finished my last volunteer shift, and today I’m attending my last competition. So many of the friends I made are leaving, but even though we’re sad, we’re also happy because we had the chance to do something most people in the world don’t get to do. Volunteering at the Olympics has taught me so much about the world. I have interacted with people from so many from countries that I might never visit, but we still managed to communicate with each other sometimes even if we didn’t speak the same language. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, once said, “the most important thing about the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part.” Although he was talking more about athletes having good sportsmanship, his quote also applies to my experience. I didn’t compete at the Olympics, but I did take part, and doing that has been life-changing.

In the past week, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to watch Usain Bolt run the prelims, semi-finals, and finals of the 100 meter sprint; Simone Biles and Aly Raisman perform at the Gymnastics Gala; Russia win the Synchronized Swimming duet; and various teams play Water Polo. I also visited the Sugarloaf Mountain with two American volunteers who I met online and was really excited to meet in person, I went to the Escadaria Selarón (the famous steps in Rio de Janeiro), and I rode one of the bikes used in the Opening Ceremony! This has just been so incredible because every day is an amazing adventure, and most of the time, I don’t know what will happen when I wake up in the morning. Rio de Janeiro is one of the most laid back and relaxed places I have ever been to, and I really like its stress-free environment. I think it’s very healthy, and it allows for people (like me!) to have awesome adventures.

I go to diving today, and tomorrow, I’m going to attend The Today Show. To my friends on the East Coast, it will be aired live at 7 am! Try to find me. 🙂 Tomorrow is also the Closing Ceremony!

Here’s a video that I made last Thursday for my second recap on my Rio 2016 adventures. Check out my next video for what I did starting yesterday until the end of my trip.

The Olympics!

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for not updating sooner. As soon as I got to Rio, it has been go go go because I want to do and experience everything!

Here’s a video recap of my time here so far!

I am loving it so much. Everyone has been so friendly both in the Olympics and in Brazil. Even if we don’t speak the same language, we somehow manage to make it work through hand motions, Google Translate, and body language. I am so grateful that I’m in Rio right now having my dreams become true! Thank you to everyone who has helped make this amazing experience happen for me.

About volunteering:

I’m working in the Main Press Centre at the Main Help Desk in Barra Olympic Park. I help journalists and photographers by checking them in, giving them their press kits, and answering any questions they have. I love where I’m working because I get to talk to so many people from all over the world and from big news outlets like BBC or The New York Times. Additionally because we are working with so many people from around the world who might not speak Portuguese or English, we have the help of the Language Team. It’s been really fun to start trying to help a journalist or photographer in English, identify his or her language, and then have someone there who actually speaks it be able to help him or her.

I’m the only American volunteer in my section, which makes it really amazing because I’m making friends with people from all over the world. There are volunteers from Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, China, and Colombia who work with me. It’s been incredible to learn more about people’s lives in other parts of the world, and it has definitely been a life-changing experience so far. I’ve learned that some things are very different in other parts of the world (like people don’t say “bless you” after someone sneezes), some are close but different (the keyboards on computers in Brazil are almost exactly the same as keyboards in the U.S. but a few of the keys are moved around), and others are exactly the same in every country like smiles, laughter, loving dogs, and people wanting their countries to win gold! 🙂

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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How to Find Volunteering Opportunities

IMG_9237 watermarkIn 2015, I started volunteering more than I had ever done before. This was because of a few reasons. One, I had figured out that it’s really easy to volunteer in New York City. There are so many nonprofits throughout the city, and they almost always need free help. Two, I enjoy doing it. It’s fun, and it makes me happy. Three (and this is the reason for today’s blog post), it is a way to further your career in a field. Besides internships and jobs, volunteering is a great way to gain experience in your field, network in your field, and get an inside look at an organization.

Because my friend noticed that my volunteering had increased in 2015, she recently asked me for tips on how to find volunteer opportunities. After helping her, I decided to write a blog post on it.

Here are five tips on how to find volunteer opportunities.

  1. Figure out the field or nonprofit where you want to volunteer. This is the most important tip because without it, the experience won’t be worthwhile for you. You should enjoy what you’re doing, or you’ll be wasting your time.
  2. Google it. Search for “Volunteering opportunities ________ New York City (or whatever location you’re in)” or some variation of this. For example, I Googled “volunteering opportunities Olympics New York City” and “volunteering opportunities sports New York City” to create my list of where to volunteer in 2016.
  3. Identify specific nonprofits that have missions you like and agree with, and then find events they have where you can volunteer. For some nonprofits, you can even volunteer to work in their office. Just find someone who works in the department you would like to work in and email that person.
  4. Utilize volunteer websites, such as idealist.org and  volunteermatch.org. Even if you aren’t able to find volunteer opportunities on these websites, they can often point you toward a specific organization where you might like volunteer in the future.
  5. If you find an organization you like, look at its employees’ bios, especially the CEO’s. By doing this, you can usually identify other related organizations and thus, more places for you to volunteer!

Here’s to more volunteering!

My Road to Rio (So Far)

I began my Road to Rio in November 2014 when I applied to volunteer at the Olympics, and then on November 30, 2015, I was approved! YAY!!! I couldn’t believe it!

Here’s what happened before I was chosen as a volunteer:

To apply, I filled out an application on their volunteer portal. It was short but also difficult because only a small amount of characters were allowed for each answer. For example, I had to say why I wanted to volunteer for Rio 2016 in only 200 characters including spaces. That’s hard!

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Submitted my application!

After applying, I did two language tests and an online dynamic (that tested how I would act in situations I might experience while volunteering at the Games). The online dynamic made me extremely excited because they did a really good job of simulating the Games! It’s crazy to me that in under 190 days, I will actually be there!

Until October of 2015, I didn’t hear anything about volunteering, but I was determined to go to the Olympics anyway. The United States sells Olympic tickets through CoSport, and since last spring, they have been selling them in a variety of ways. At first, it was a lottery system. People chose what events they wanted to go see and entered the lottery for those events. At this point, all of the events were available. I managed to get a ticket to the final of the Men’s 10 Meter Platform Diving! This event is always really exciting because I used to dive, and also because it’s really hard to predict who will win! David Boudia from the U.S. won it at the last Olympics.

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Sports of the Rio Olympics and Paralympics

Since the huge lottery, CoSport has been releasing tickets sporadically, and I’ve been buying them. So far, I have tickets to nine different events (although I may try to sell some of these based on times). They are for Diving, Football (AKA soccer), Archery (two different events), Handball, Table Tennis, Badminton, Fencing, and Athletics (AKA Track and Field).

Surprisingly, my most expensive ticket was $123, and my least expensive was $20. That’s not bad for the Olympics!

In October, I had an online group interview with someone from the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, which only built the excitement. I was so nervous during it, and then on November 30, I was picked!

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Now, I’m waiting for my actual assignment, but I’m happy that I’m going! I bought my plane tickets this past week, and I’ll be renting a place to stay very soon.

Only 186 more days!

The 2015 Athlete Leadership Connection

IMG_0265On October 19, the Women’s Sports Foundation, a NYC nonprofit that promotes women in sports, hosted its first Athlete Leadership Connection. Held in the Morgan Stanley Headquarters in Times Square, the event brought together collegiate and professional female athletes, including Olympians and Paralympians.

IMG_0267.jpgThe main purpose of the day was to help collegiate and professional athletes with their futures. Women who were already professionals, whether in athletics or business, participated and led panels throughout the day that were designed to aid athletes who wanted to change from being an athlete into something else. Some of the panels were “Identifying Your Brand,” “Careers in Sports Journalism and Broadcasting,” “Financial Literacy,” and “Career Opportunities in Athletic Leadership.” There were even mock interviews set up with various companies.

I volunteered during the second half of the day, so I wasn’t able to see many of the panels. However, I was able to see the last one of the day and the one I think was coolest. “Project Connection” was very similar to Shark Tank, the show where entrepreneurs present their products to wealthy and influential people who could fund them.

The participating athletes were divided into three teams, and each team was given a concept. The teams had a very small amount of time to put together an idea worthy of being presented to an Angel, someone who could fund their idea. Then, they presented their work, and it was very fun to watch and listen.

The first was a Title IX App that was geared toward education about Title IX, a law that prohibits sexual discrimination in any sports or federally funded activity. They intended to start promoting it with high school students, so they would be able to know their rights before college. After their presentation, the Angels were able to ask questions in order to get more information. One of them asked, “What will we get back in return?” and an athlete answered, “Awareness.”

The second was a Fans in the Stands App that would be designed to get more fans for women’s sports. They would start the app with college students and then expand it to high school and professional sports. There would be a number of rewards and promotions that would benefit those who had the app and went to female athletes’  competitions and games.

The third was an idea called Candid Conversations. Female professional athletes would speak to current female student athletes on college campuses about transitioning from a sports-focused life to a career-focused life. It would be a speaker series similar to TED Talks that would help collegiate athletes develop professional skills. To start, there would be nine speeches at nine different universities with 1800 students reached.

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The winners!

After the athletes presented their ideas, the Angels went out of the room to discuss each one, and when they returned, they announced that they would give Candid Conversations $31,000 for the first year with an extra $20,000 to train the athlete speakers in public speaking. The second year, they would give $50,000 if the first year’s results were good. It was very exciting that the Angels agreed to fund one of the ideas! I look forward to hearing about how Candid Conversations is doing in 2016 and if it is funded again in 2017!

Here is a video of the day from the Women’s Sports Foundation:

 

For more information about the Athlete Leadership Connection and any of the other work the Women’s Sports Foundation does, here is its website:  http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org