Looking Back…

 

For the past two years, August has been a special month for me. Two years ago, I had just finished volunteering at the Los Angeles 2015 World Summer Games. One year ago, I was in Rio volunteering for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Both of those experiences are very important to me, and I have such wonderful memories for both of them. Before both of these experiences, I was very nervous. For LA, I was traveling somewhere by myself and volunteering at an international event for the first time, and for Rio, I was going to Brazil without knowing a lot of people or a lot of Portuguese. However, I loved each experience so much.

Thinking back to August 2016 and 2015, I thought a good blog post would feature my favorite picture from each one. I love photography, and there are some photos that really capture the spirit of the Games.

Here’s my favorite photo from LA 2015:

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LA 2015 was an eye-opening experience for me partly because it seemed like the whole world had come together to compete or to cheer for the athletes, but also because of moments like this. This is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. Those two athletes are from different countries, might not even have spoken the same language, and one of them won gold while the other won silver, but they are united in their celebration. They look so happy, proud, and triumphant. It makes me happy just to look at it.

For Rio 2016, it was a lot harder to choose, but I do love this one.

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This photo reminds me of the Closing Ceremony, one of my favorite moments of the Olympics. It was a symbol that I had achieved my dream of going to the Olympics. I had gone there and made the most of it. I was there at the Closing Ceremony! It felt like a really big party, and I think this photo captures that.

Thanks for reminiscing with me! Even though I’m sad that these events are over, the great thing about the Olympics and Special Olympics is that there will always be more moments like these in the future.

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Happy Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day 2016!

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

– Special Olympics Athlete Oath

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Eunice Kennedy Shriver wrote this down on the morning of July 20, 1968, the day of the first Special Olympics International Games. She spoke the oath at the Opening Ceremony, and ever since, Special Olympic athletes have been pledging it at every Special Olympic competition.

Today is the seventh annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day! We celebrate this every year to honor Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics. She changed the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities by providing them with a way to train and compete in sports, and she changed the lives of everyone in the world by creating a way for inclusion.

She was a hero in changing the world, and every day, Special Olympics continues on her heroic legacy. By reciting the Athlete Oath 48 years ago, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a movement toward inclusion, and all of the 4.7 million current Special Olympics athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers have continued her effort to create a world that celebrates people’s abilities instead of disabilities. Thank you, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, for giving the world Special Olympics. ❤

Click on the images below to make them bigger and celebrate EKS Day and Special Olympics with me! 🙂

Olympic Day

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To me, every day is Olympic Day (especially when it’s one more day until I leave for Rio!), but Olympic Day is also a day celebrated every June 23 to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894. Every year from May 31 to June 30, communities and programs around the United States organize events to celebrate the day. Before my internship at LA 2024, I had never been to one of these events.

On Thursday, June 23, the LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Committee and the LA84 Foundation, which was formed with the profits from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, hosted an Olympic Day celebration in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Over 500 youth in the Los Angeles community came, and after the Opening Ceremony, they were able to learn and play Sitting Volleyball, Volleyball, Archery, Rugby, Soccer, Fencing, Rowing, and Badminton.

The Opening Ceremony, staged in front of the Memorial Coliseum, featured LA 2024 Chairman Casey Wasserman, LA 2024 Vice Chair and Director of Athlete Relations Janet Evans, and LA84 Foundation and CEO Renata Simril. After the Opening Ceremony ended, the cauldron ignited, and a day of Olympic Spirit began.

We started the day off by arranging all of the students into the Olympic rings, which was kind of difficult but very cool. After creating the rings, each group went off to its station to learn the rules of the sport and try it out.

IMG_0686 (1)During the day, I was also able to learn a few new sports. I tried Sitting Volleyball, a Paralympic sport where competitors are only allowed to sit on the ground while playing. This was so much fun! I never enjoyed playing Volleyball in gym, but I really liked this.

I also learned a little Fencing from a very energetic coach. Before this, Fencing always seemed too foreign for me to understand, but she broke down how to play it for me. Although it was really hard (so much to think about!), I enjoyed the little private lesson, and I would like to try Fencing again. I’m really excited to watch Fencing at the Olympics because now I have a little more understanding of the sport and how it feels to do it.

Toward the end of the day, I tried Rowing. Because they weren’t able to bring a place where you could actually row onto the field of the Coliseum, they had rowing machines set up. I had used them before in high school gym class. Now I know what they’re really meant for because the person at that station talked me through what the motions on the machine stimulated in actual Rowing.

This day was really fun, and it made me very excited for the start of my internship. A little less than a year ago, I had been in the stands of the Coliseum watching the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony happen on that same field where I stood on Olympic Day. While watching all of the kids try out different Olympic sports with the cauldron burning above the field, I was really inspired. It felt right for Los Angeles, and it felt right for me. The cauldron of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the place where the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, and Olympic Day began, will hopefully light up at the Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympics, and maybe some of the students from Olympic Day 2016 will be there competing.

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For faster updates while I’m at the Olympics, follow the Olympics of Blogs on Instagram @theolympicsofblogs. I leave on Monday!

 

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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Katy Sanchez: Special Olympics Athlete

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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!

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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.

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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!

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:

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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