Katy Sanchez: Special Olympics Athlete

11214067_996750660347614_9021983995308045736_n

Katy, me, and Doug before the Opening Ceremony

Even though we are both from New York, are involved with Special Olympics New York, and actually live a little more than an hour away from each other, I didn’t meet Katy Sanchez until I went to Los Angeles. We were both at the Just-in-Time Training for volunteers at the World Games. I thought I had seen her before (and I had), so I introduced myself to her and her mom, Susan. It was great to find fellow New Yorkers in LA! We met up a few more times in LA, helped each other to get around on the metro, and then I saw her and her mom at the most recent State Games in October where she competed in golf.

Katy’s passion about Special Olympics is really inspiring and powerful. She is a speaker, a Global Messenger for Special Olympics New York, and a very good, competitive, and committed Special Olympics athlete in the Hudson Valley Region. Even though she didn’t qualify for the World Games this summer, she still came to volunteer and support the athletes. She was also kind enough to grant the Olympics of Blogs an interview. 🙂

The Olympics of Blogs: How long have you been participating in 10156791_634675696625264_6607710400034735330_nSpecial Olympics?

Katy: I started Special Olympics in 2007. I started with Basketball. Special Olympics has changed my life

The Olympics of Blogs: What sports do you compete in?

Katy: The sports I compete in are golf, soccer, floor hockey, basketball, track and field, cycling, and I even do triathlons.

The Olympics of Blogs: What is your favorite sport?

Katy: My favorite sport is basketball because my brother taught me how to play the game.

The Olympics of Blogs: What is your favorite thing about Special Olympics?

Katy: My favorite thing about Special Olympics is that we have mutual respect for each other.

The Olympics of Blogs: How many medals have you won?

Katy: I’ve won 99 medals so far; more are coming this year!

unnamed-1

The Olympics of Blogs: What was your favorite experience at Special Olympics?

Katy: My favorite experience is becoming a Global Messenger for Special Olympics New York. I enjoy speaking about Special Olympics to the community!

11825905_999410680081612_7962135851699404854_nThe Olympics of Blogs: What was your job at the World Games?

Katy: I was an athlete volunteer at the World Games in LA in July of 2015. I volunteered at soccer and received soccer balls, and one day at Tennis, I helped out the fans!

The Olympics of Blogs: Based on your experience at the World Games, how is volunteering as a Special Olympics athlete different from competing?

Katy: My experience as volunteering at World Games in LA in July of 2015 was that I got to support other athletes that were competing!

The Olympics of Blogs: What other Games have you been to, either as a competitor or a volunteer?

Katy: I’ve been to National Games in 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska, for track and field with Team Virginia. Also in 2010, I got to go to Latin America with my Team Virginia Area 26 teammates [for the Latin American Games]. Also I went to the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey for triathlon with Team New York.

unnamed-2

Katy at the Team USA Games

The Olympics of Blogs: Have you ever done any speaking activities for Special Olympics? What were those?

Katy: I have done a lot speaking opportunities, but my favorite one was New York City Gala, where my speech was a moving one!! I spoke in front of 700 people.

The Olympics of Blogs: What does Special Olympics mean to you?

Katy: Special Olympics means family. I have always said it’s my second family because we protect each other. It also means accepting who we are. Also, we are inspiration to others.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Katy: BE A FAN OF Special Olympics! I would love to see more Unified teams in high schools and colleges!!

12243177_1644470942503232_1273705810454131691_n

Katy at the Rockland Polar Plunge this past weekend

Katy’s goal is to be an International Global Messenger for Special Olympics International and/or to compete in the World Games. Good luck, Katy!

Pins (And Their Place in the Olympic Movement)

In my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, they have frames filled with pins right above the computer. For a long time when I was growing up, I had no idea what they were for. However, it all clicked one day, and I realized that these were the pins my family had collected when we went to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

I was one at the time, so I don’t remember it, but my sister says it was really awesome. She told me that her pins were coveted because my mom had gotten Kodak pins that no one else had. Although I missed out on the pin-collecting fun at the Atlanta Games, I was able to experience my own pin-collecting fun this summer at the Special Olympics World Games.

IMG_9059

He was right outside of the LA Memorial Coliseum after the Opening Ceremony and would only trade for pins. People kept trying to buy them, but he kept refusing.

Amy, my supervisor at Special Olympics New York, gave me Special Olympics New York pins before I left. I’m so grateful that she did because I was able to trade those for really cool pins. Mine were highly desired because not many people there were from New York. From my experience, trading pins was a way to open up conversation and connect with people from anywhere. The pins bridged the gap between cultures and languages. Most of the delegations had pins from their countries with them, and it was a good way to approach a team and get to know them. Special Olympics athletes are so kind that usually they tried to give me their pins instead of trading. I always had to make sure that they also got pins from me.

IMG_9060

One of the coolest pin tradings happened on my last night as a volunteer. I was already done with my shift, and I was saying goodbye to everything at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza with my friend I had made during the Games. A man and a woman approached me and asked if I wanted to trade with them. They ended up trading me pins from the Atlanta 1996 Olympics! I traded some of my pins for an Atlanta Olympic pin, Paralympic pin, and a Diving pin. As I was talking with them, they told me they were Olympic historians, and they had been to 18 Olympics in total. They had actually just returned from the Pan Am Games, which happened in Toronto this summer. I got some advice from them about Rio, and I said I would see them there!

IMG_9072

Pins from the Fan Zone. We were giving them out for free- no trading necessary!

After I came back from the World Games, I wasn’t sure of what I should do with my pins. I definitely wanted to display them, so I could see them every day just like I could in my parents’ house. Eventually, I decided to arrange them on a bulletin board with my favorite photos from the Games. I just finished it this past week, and here’s the finished product:

12036827_10205438162853251_6864626124777853836_n

Thanks for reading! Please follow me for more updates on my Olympic journey!

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.

IMG_6040 watermark

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.

IMG_6048

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.

IMG_6050IMG_6058

Here is the view from the top:

IMG_6064

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!

Here is a view of the Downtown LA skyline from the top. It’s a little different from NYC’s skyline but just as beautiful!IMG_6061

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:

IMG_6075

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.

IMG_6082

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

boston-2024-36d9c1eb8f6f2674

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

 

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.

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.

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! 🙂

Countdown to the World Games: Day 3

Only 2 more days until I go to LA to volunteer for the World Games! Yay! I’m so excited!

For Day 3 of my countdown/recounting of Special Olympics experiences, I chose the Metro Tournament. This occurred right after I started interning, and what a great way to start my internship!

The Metro Tournament took place at Queens College on Saturday, May 30. Over 700 New York City athletes competed in Track and Field, Volleyball, Powerlifting, Softball, and other sports with the help of about 300 volunteers.

Just like most New Yorkers, the day started for me with a very long subway ride. The campus was beautiful and big, and that is why it was so far into Queens. Once I made it to the college, I got lost in the excitement. Athletes from every New York City borough were arriving on buses, and Special Olympics New York staff members were trying to organize everyone. I helped one of my colleagues with the Law Enforcement Torch Run. We found three very talkative and charming athletes to accompany the law enforcement officers who would be running the Flame of Hope into the stadium to start off the competition.

IMG_4603IMG_4634

We met the law enforcement runners at TD Bank and prepared to go. They were led by motorcyclists and police cars. It was an incredible sight. When they arrived at the stadium, all of the athletes were ready for the Parade of Athletes. Each borough carried a sign down a tunnel made up of volunteers while we clapped, cheered, and gave high fives.

After that, it was time for the torch! It wasn’t lit because that would have been bad on such a windy day, but it still made me and everyone there so excited. It was the perfect image of what Special Olympics really is. The entire community got
IMG_4744 behind the athletes, and we held our breathes as the torch was carried onto the stage to signal that the Games were open. Laura Behnke, a Weekend Sports Anchor on ABC7, spoke and officially opened the competition.

IMG_4931

Valerie winning her second gold medal!

For most of the day, I followed a National Games gold medalist named Valerie around as she competed in Standing Long Jump and Running, and we were able to talk a lot. She was so nice and told me all about National Games and World Games (which was in Shanghai when she went). I felt very welcome with her and her family as they waited between events.

IMG_4967

Healthy Eyes

Once her events were over, I explored the Olympic Village. Volunteers were giving out lunches for all the athletes and other volunteers. There was a Special Olympics New York store, and most importantly, there was Healthy Athletes. Healthy Athletes is a program at Special Olympics competitions where medical volunteers examine athletes. There were four stations: Fit Feet, Healthy Hearing, Healthy Eyes, and Healthy Smiles. In each station, a medical examiner checked each athlete and explained about proper health.

IMG_5099Later, I was able to watch the Powerlifting, which was my favorite part of the whole day. It was incredible how much the athletes were able to lift, and I loved how most of the athletes had taken on a persona for powerlifting. My favorite was The Skullcrusher. Every time I would go to take a picture of him, he would whip out a rubber skull and actually crush it. Other notable names were The Gentle Giant and Mr. USA.

IMG_5192

The Skullcrusher

All in all, medals were won at the Metro Tournament, athletes were happy, their families were proud, and Special Olympics staff was tired. It’s crazy how much I learned about Special Olympics New York with this one event. It was an incredible way to start my internship, and I’m very thankful for it.

Here are some more photos from the day:

IMG_4781IMG_4796IMG_4864

From top to bottom: 2015 World Games athlete Thomas and his dad, Doug; Valerie competing in the Standing Long Jump; an athlete winning gold

Check in tomorrow for Day 2 of my countdown! 

IMG_4784