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.

Watermark hand holding

IMG_9227 watermarked

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.

IMG_9218 watermark

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!
IMG_9230 watermarkedIMG_9239 watermark

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:

IMG_9152 watermark
Here is an athlete’s LA 2015 inspired hairdo. You can see the Reach Up LA logo. So cool!

Carolyn with athlete watermark

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

IMG_9170 watermark

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.

IMG_9261 watermark

She won gold in horseback riding!

IMG_9168 watermark

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.

IMG_9176 watermark IMG_9096 watermarkIMG_6173 watermark

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

IMG_5786 watermark

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!

IMG_5587 watermark

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!

IMG_9017

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.

IMG_5692 watermark

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.

IMG_5781 watermark

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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 8.59.00 PM watermark
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!

IMG_9048 watermarkScreen Shot 2015-08-09 at 9.02.02 PM

IMG_5867 watermark

Countdown to the World Games: Day 5

10250132_10205095091556683_6611052493135101941_n

Me with the Special Olympics   Flame of Hope

During winter break, I began my Special Olympics journey at the library near my hometown in Pennsylvania. As someone with the very specific and unusual goal of working for the Olympics, it has always been hard to find volunteering opportunities or internships geared toward what I want to do. However, my sister had sent me a list of possible internships to apply for, and that was what I was planning on doing. At the bottom of the list, she wrote this short sentence that has led to all my work with Special Olympics:

“It might be good to look into volunteering with Special Olympics as well.”

That one sentence started my entire Special Olympics journey. In the library, I applied to volunteer at Special Olympics New York’s Winter Games, which were held February 6-8, 2015 in Syracuse, NY. I was selected as a volunteer, made plans to stay at my cousin’s house (thank you, Chris!), and got on the bus to go to Syracuse without quite knowing what to expect.

My experience at the Winter Games was so much fun! I volunteered to help with event set-up and to be a Fan in the Stands for the Opening Ceremony and Figure Skating. The Games were truly a community endeavor with everyone working together to make the event special. I have never been around people who had that much passion for what they do. Just like the Olympics, coaches, athletes, volunteers, and fans united through sport. The feeling of perfect unity between everyone was unbelievably and unexpectedly empowering. I felt like I was part of a whole and that I was actually making a difference in people’s lives. To me, that is the golden feeling of any volunteer experience.

IMG_4140

Parade of Athletes

The night of the Opening Ceremony, I joined the anticipation for the athletes’ arrival by making signs to cheer them on. After that, I formed a line with other volunteers. Across from us, local police officers assembled into another line. The athletes swarmed in between our two lines, and suddenly the entire room was filled with so much excitement for the Games to start. Athletes from all areas of New York had come to compete, and many of them were not able to bring their families. Instead, they had us, and judging from the number of high fives we received, I think they appreciated it.

During the Opening Ceremony, there were many speakers, and everyone’s speech was imbued with the magic of the night. One athlete’s speech was particularly heartwarming. She had been a Special Olympics athlete for a long time, and it had really changed her life. She told us that before training with Special Olympics New York, she had not been able to open her hand, and then while at the podium, she opened her hand for all to see. The applause was enormous. To end the night, members of Syracuse’s Law Enforcement community and a Special Olympics athlete carried the Flame of Hope in and lit the official cauldron, and with that, the 2015 Winter State Games were open.

IMG_4152IMG_4160

The next day, I was a Fan in the Stands for Figure Skating. Since I am scared of ice skating, I had so much awe for those athletes. Some fell, but they got right back up again. Their skating was beautiful, but their attitudes were even more.

IMG_4237IMG_4248IMG_4255

After Figure Skating was over, I went to cheer on Floor Hockey teams. The games could get very intense and kind of violent, but that same sense of unity was there. At one point, one of the players fell down, and every single one of his team members hoisted him up. The teams, coaches, fans, and officials were all there to have fun, and they did it together.

11402994_10205095091596684_5058970810769487803_n

Awards were next, and I watched each of the figure skaters receive their awards. Everyone received either gold or silver, and the athletes were so happy. However, this weekend was not about who won or what medals people received. It was just like the oath pledged by athletes at the start of the Games: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” It only mattered if the athletes were brave, and they all had been. They competed in the spirit of the Olympic Movement and focused on their abilities, not their disabilities. They would have made Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, proud.

IMG_4306

Figure Skating Awards

Volunteering at the Winter State Games was my first experience with Special Olympics, and it definitely has led me to continue pursuing Special Olympics through events, my internship, and the LA 2015 World Games.

Check in tomorrow for the second day of my countdown to the World Games!