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.

483650002

At the Empire State Building to welcome the World Games athletes home

IMG_0360

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.”

IMG_6046

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!

Watermark hand holding

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.

IMG_4203IMG_8097IMG_8107

IMG_8116

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!

IMG_4255IMG_4191IMG_4241IMG_4248

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:

D4S_6446-MD4S_7462-MD4S_6675-MD4S_8538-MD4S_8713-M

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.

IMG_0452

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.)

IMG_8041

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

 

Hello 2016!

Happy New Year! I can’t believe it’s already 2016!

2015 was an awesome year for me. I volunteered at the Special Olympics World Games, started interning at Special Olympics New York, created this blog, met two of my heroes, made a lot of amazing new friends, and was accepted to volunteer at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro! 2015 made me really excited for 2016!

In honor of 2016, here is a list of 16 things I am excited about for 2016.

  1. VOLUNTEERING AT THE RIO OLYMPICS!!!!!!! 112414-OLYMPIC-2016-MASCOT-AS-PI.vadapt.620.high.55
  2. Watching the Olympics in person!
  3. Going to the Olympic Village in Rio.
  4. Exploring Rio de Janeiro.
  5. Trading Olympic pins with people from all over the world.
  6. Continuing to intern at Special Olympics New York.
  7. Growing my blog and updating it more frequently.
  8. Meeting more people who love the Olympic Movement just as much as I do!
  9. Graduating from Pace University in December 2016.
  10. Getting my first full-time job!IMG_4864
  11. Volunteering around the city (and writing blog posts about it!).
  12. Writing my senior thesis on the Olympic Movement.
  13. Turning 21.
  14. More Special Olympics New York competitions!
  15. Learning Portuguese.
  16. Summer ❤
images

Happy New Year in Portuguese

 Happy 2016 to all of my followers! Here’s to another gold medal year!

Special Olympics New York’s Fall State Games!

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 9.18.40 PM

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!

IMG_7743

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:

IMG_7954

IMG_7967

IMG_7945

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

IMG_7905

IMG_7838

IMG_7812

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

IMG_7779

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. 🙂

Happy Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day!

“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.” 

images

– Eunice Kennedy Shriver 

Today is the sixth annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day. It honors Eunice Kennedy Shriver (EKS), the founder of Special Olympics and someone who truly showed that one person can change the world. Special Olympics started as a summer day camp for people with intellectual disabilities held in her backyard. At that time, people with intellectual disabilities weren’t treated with respect or as members of the community, and there were no sports open to them.

Throughout the years, Special Olympics has continued to change athletes’ lives by providing Olympic-style sporting competitions, working to end the use of the R word, and becoming the world’s largest public health organization that treats individuals with intellectual disabilities. Today, Special Olympics serves over 4.4 million athletes in more than 170 countries, and it is all because of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s dream.

Special Olympics writes, “Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day is celebrated around the world in an effort to honor her life and impact and share her story to inspire new fans. We hope to inspire people of all ages to follow her example and commit themselves to improving the world for people with intellectual disabilities.” This day is a call to action for people around the world to make society more unified in sports, the community, and at work. It is so inspiring to continue her legacy by working at Special Olympics New York.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a remarkable person who fully embodied the ideas of the Olympic movement. She lived according to her key values of love, justice, faith, hope, and courage, and by doing so, she changed the lives of over 4.4 million people with intellectual disabilities. She was a hero, and through Special Olympics, her heroism lives on.

For More Information on EKS Day and Special Olympics

Photo from http://www.specialolympicsga.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Eunice-Kennedy-Shriver-1968.jpg

The U.S. Open!

10378079_10205359024554843_8085730605820553294_n

Here I am at the U.S. Open!

On August 31, I went to intern at Special Olympics New York expecting a normal day. I was kind of sad because the summer was over, school was starting soon, and it had been the best summer of my life. I settled into my desk to do some work, and then the mail came. At around 9:50 am, my supervisor asked me and the other intern if we wanted to go to the U.S. Open at 11 am! She had received free tickets in the mail, so off we went! It was so nice of her!

I was extremely excited! Every year, the U.S. Open happens in Queens, and every year, I look into volunteering or attending. This was the year I finally went! It reminded me that even though summer was over, Special Olympics New York will still be full of magical new experiences and surprises.

The other intern and I hurried onto the subway, and we got there a little before 11! I had to check my bag and then we had to wait in a long line, so we ended up finding our seats a little after 11. However, as I soon learned, tennis matches can be very long.

The entire tournament was in the USTA (U.S. Tennis Association) Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which was huge. There were a lot of different stadiums and a lot of booths. We were in the main stadium called the Arthur Ashe Stadium. According to the USTA’s website, there are 22,771 seats. Here it is:

11986925_10205359024634845_1720474970761774769_nThe first match was Ana Ivanovic of Serbia vs. Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia. Cibulkova won overall, but the two players were quite evenly matched. They played really well.

The second match was Venus Williams (AHHH!) of the U.S. vs. Monica Puig of Puerto Rico.

11259586_10205359024594844_3457786966546002477_nIt was so cool to watch Venus Williams play! As someone who is terrible at tennis, I was amazed at the level of play between her and Monica Puig. She won the game in the first round of three sets, but it was still a very good game. I can’t believe I was able to watch tennis royalty like Venus Williams compete!

11987095_10205359023634820_5864606984948398374_n 11057303_10205359023554818_4548017676572542631_n

It was such a great day and an incredible end to the summer! I am so thankful that I work at Special Olympics New York, where I’m able to have such amazing adventures!

11222365_10205359023674821_3160166257159461392_n

Countdown to the World Games: Day 2 and Day 1!

I realize this should have come out on Thursday, but I was traveling then! I’m in LA now, and it’s incredible to see how excited about the Games everyone is here. Even the people at the airport were wearing World Games pins on their lanyards. This is my last recount in the Countdown to the Games, and then I’ll start posting about what I’m doing in LA!

IMG_5245The Flame of Hope came to New York City this summer, and this was the most magical moment of my involvement at Special Olympics thus far. I’m sure tonight will be even more! The Torch Run leading up to the World Games started in Athens, and incredibly, that same flame was brought to New York for its portion of the Torch Run. After leaving the city, the flame has traveled throughout the United States, and on Saturday, the final leg of the Torch Run will carry the Flame of Hope into the Opening Ceremony, where I’ll get to see it in a few hours!

Before the Torch Run ran into Bryant Park, I was able to bond with Thomas, one of the World Games athletes, and Doug, his dad, by playing mini golf in the Special Olympics New York office. By the time we had to leave, the mini golf game had turned into an extreme obstacle course version. Even in a small mini golf game in the office, Thomas (the World Games athlete) and his dad (also a Special Olympics athlete) were being competitive athletes.

11412241_10204820640575580_149071397099577514_n

Once we got to the park, we were greeted by friendly Bank of America volunteers. There was a tent with a photo booth where people could take pictures with signs. Doug and I took this picture and pledged to pass the flame for happiness. I’d say we look pretty happy!

Finally, the torchbearers ran the Flame of Hope into Bryant Park while everyone cheered. It was such a beautiful moment. I took photos from behind them just because that was the only free space, and it’s amazing to see all of the people filming, clapping, and supporting the torchbearers. My sister came with me, and she took the image from the front, which is equally powerful.

IMG_523811216255_10101347226209915_2848911864356235591_nIMG_5229

IMG_5272After the excitement of the torchbearers, there were speeches. The most notable ones for me were Thomas’s and the CEO of Special Olympics International’s. You could tell that Thomas was nervous (who wouldn’t be?), but his speech was excellent. He thanked everyone and talked about how great Special Olympics has been for him. The CEO, Janet Froetscher, had a similar message in her speech. I was so starstruck by her because I have done school projects on her and Special Olympics. I was able to see her in real life!

IMG_5319

IMG_8574Later during the celebration, I was actually able to meet her. I was incredibly nervous, but there was no reason to be! She was extremely nice and even gave me her business card.

The next day, I was able to join Thomas for his portion of the Torch Run. He was with Deborah Norville of Inside Edition and a large group of Bank of America volunteers. For most of the time, we were just waiting around for Tara Lipinski and her group to pass the flame. Here are some photos of us waiting. I loved holding the torch!

IMG_5459IMG_5457

Next, Tara Lipinski came, passed the flame, and off they went! It was an incredible experience, and it’s crazy how fast it happened! I love how the World Games brings together everyone, just like the Torch Run did. Celebrities, staff, volunteers, fundraisers, coaches, camera crews, bystanders, and athletes are all able to share a part of the journey. It’s a true Unified experience!
IMG_5477IMG_5473 IMG_5480                IMG_5486

It’s less than four hours until the Opening Ceremony! I can’t wait! 🙂

Interning at a Nonprofit

intern

In addition to being an Olympics blog, I also want to talk about interning at nonprofits. Currently, I intern at Special Olympics New York, and I love it. I know that it’s what I want to do when I graduate, so that makes everything worth it. Sure, I do feel burned out sometimes. It’s normal when one does a lot of work without being paid. However, someone once told me that unpaid internships pay in experience, and especially at Special Olympics New York, it’s true. I have learned so much that I wouldn’t be able to learn in a class while doing something I love and for my future career. I will be staying on at Special Olympics New York until December.

At first glance, interning at nonprofits seems to be a tough sell because they are almost always unpaid. Most nonprofits unfortunately do not budget to pay their interns. It makes sense that nonprofits want to keep as much of their funding for the people they help, but it is still a huge problem because not everyone can afford to work for free. I’m interning and doing another job, but I wish I could afford to intern all the time. Interning is one of the most important things for someone concerned about his or her career to do.

Recently, I figured out how many hours I spent interning at my previous internship and how many I would have by the end of the summer. It was startling. At my previous internship at YAI Network (which I had for a year), I interned approximately 26,500 hours. By the end of this summer at Special Olympics New York, I’ll have interned or volunteered 70 hours. That’s a lot of unpaid labor, so why did I do it?

Pluses of Interning at a Nonprofit (in no particular order)

1. You are integral for an organization to accomplish its mission. You should choose a nonprofit that has a mission which you are passionate about. While working there, you will feel like you are making a difference, and you will be. The organization couldn’t help the people it serves without you.

2. All interning experience counts as real world experience, so it will stay on your resume long after you have to take your college experience off. Eventually, employers won’t be looking for who was president of what club, but they will always be looking for someone who has experience working in the field.

3. You can’t learn everything from class. Even though I’m a Nonprofit Studies minor, I have learned so many things at Special Olympics New York that I would never be able to learn in class. I get to learn by actually doing something, whether it is writing a grant proposal or researching possible sponsors or interacting with the athletes.

4. You get to start working on your career while you’re still in school, and while you can afford to be unpaid. More and more, internships are becoming vital to anyone interested in entering the nonprofit field. Employers look for experience over anything else. Because of this, it’s important that you get that experience while you can, so you don’t have to do it after you graduate.

5. It’s fun to escape college sometimes. I love my college, and I love my college friends, but sometimes, you need a break. You just need to leave the building and do something outside of your school. Interning at a nonprofit could be that something. It will make a difference to you to intern where you are making a difference for someone else.

I have used some nonprofit websites to find internships or places to volunteer like idealist.org and The Foundation Center, but the best things to rely on during your search are word of mouth and Google. Use your contacts! I got my first internship at YAI Network because my sister’s friend was temping there. I got my internship at Special Olympics New York by Googling Special Olympics New York City, going to its website, and emailing the person in the department I wanted to work in. Before interning, the best thing to do is to try out the organization beforehand by volunteering. Then you can see how the organization is from the inside with very little pressure.

Good luck interning or volunteering!

Follow the olympics of blogs on WordPress.com