A Look Ahead to the Special Olympics PA Summer Games

It’s amazing to believe that it’s already been a year since I interned at the Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games! Here’s my blog post about it to get you in the Summer Games mood! https://theolympicsofblogs.com/2016/06/27/special-olympics-southern-californias-summer-games/

I leave today for the Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Summer Games! This is my first time going to a State Games as an Assistant Coach, and I’m excited. I’ll be helping coach swimming with many of the same athletes I’ve been coaching since January. I can’t wait to see how well they do!

The competition starts today and goes until Saturday, June 3. Over 2,000 athletes from across Pennsylvania are coming to Penn State to compete in Aquatics, Athletics (Track and Field), Basketball, Bowling, Equestrian (Horseback Riding), Golf, Gymnastics, Softball, and Tennis.

Check back here after this weekend to see how it goes!

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!

An Interview with Team USA’s Unified Floor Hockey Coach

The Special Olympics World Winter Games start a week from today, so to start getting everyone excited to cheer on Team USA, I interviewed David Durandisse, the coach of the Unified Floor Hockey team from New York City that will compete in the Games.

The Olympics of Blogs: What are you most excited for about Austria?

David: I’m excited to be visiting Europe and being a part of this huge event. I remember our first practice and now that we are this close to departure, I’m excited to see all the work come together and pay off.

The Olympics of Blogs: How were you chosen to coach the team?

David: I was offered the opportunity to join the team and I accepted.

The Olympics of Blogs: How long has your team been training for the World Games?

David: We have been practicing since September, so about 6 months.

The Olympics of Blogs: How has your team been practicing to prepare for the World Games?

David: We have been conditioning to get their stamina up; live scrimmages to get a feel for the game against opponents. We have done a bunch of drills and live game scenarios to map out what we want to do in games.

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The Olympics of Blogs: Will you and your team walk in the Opening Ceremony for Team USA?

David: We will be walking in Opening Ceremonies.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you think they’ll win gold?

David: I believe we have the players to win gold. We have a combination of size and speed that should work to our advantage to create scoring opportunities. I believe if we can put that together we will surely win gold.

The Olympics of Blogs: After coaching a Unified team, what do you think about Unified sports?

David: Unified sports is a great concept. I have seen two sides come together as one. Individuals who may have not had a chance to come together, now have that opportunity through unified sports. They have created friendships that will last a lifetime.

The Olympics of Blogs: What has been your favorite moment as a coach for Unified Floor Hockey?

David: Hanging out with the team and bonding with the coaches. We all started this journey months ago, and along the way we have shared many laughs on and off the court.

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You can watch Team USA’s Unified Floor Hockey team walk in the Opening Ceremony on ABC on March 18 from 2-5 pm ET!

The Olympic Museum

Here is a really amazing blog post written by my friend, Lili. She’s been studying abroad in London since January, and she’s been going on such amazing adventures! Recently, she journeyed to Lausanne, Switzerland, home of the Olympic Museum, and from what she wrote, it sounds like such an awesome museum! If you are interested in reading more about her travels or about any books she’s reading, check out her beautiful blog at http://lilisreflections.blogspot.com.

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Thank you so much for having me on the blog today, Carolyn!

I went to Switzerland in the beginning of March to visit a friend, and she just so happens to live in Lausanne… the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee! I took advantage of this awesome opportunity by spending a day in the Olympic Museum.

When you first walk in, you are greeted by a test track with the 5 rules of the Olympics listed: Fair Play, Excellence, Respect, Friendship, and Peace. This sets the tone of your entire visit because it symbolizes what the museum is all about. If you come from the opposite direction, you’ll climb a staircase full of dates and locations, which end up being the hosts of all recorded Games in years’ past. Pretty cool.

The museum starts you off by teaching you the history of the Games, bringing you through exhibits of what the original Games were like all the way through an exhibit on the life of the father of the modern Games. This entire first floor is very educational. I think the coolest fact that I picked up is that in the original Games in Athens, there were twelve Zeus statues on the ground to inspire athletes. Each of these statues was bought and paid for by a past Olympian that was caught cheating and exiled from the games. Their names were often etched into it, so they forever lived in shame.

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This exhibit also took you through the history of the Olympic flag. Originally it was not the five ring symbol we know and love today. And, on top of that, when it eventually became the five rings we know today, the regulations of the time prohibited the rings from properly interlocking. So the symbol we know today is still relatively young in the grand scheme of things. It was really cool to see one of the first and oldest surviving Olympic flags with today’s modern symbol.
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What stood out to me, though, was the torch exhibit. They have an actual torch for every single Games displayed and watching them transform and become more intricately detailed with each passing year was astounding. Plus, they have a Rio torch on display that I excitedly touched just to be able to say I did. Let me tell you, she is a beaut.

The next floor has some crazy history exhibits with so many interactive opportunities that you can spend hours here. Everywhere you look you could find famous outfits and equipment belonging to athletes that revolutionized their respective sport. You can then scroll through iPads at each station, select an athlete, and read in-depth bios and watch record-breaking videos of Olympians who I wasn’t alive to view myself on television.

The best part of this level, however, is the video screen. They have every single Olympic Games on it, and ten different ones can be viewed at once. You pick an Olympics, and you can view a 5 to 10 minute video about that year’s importance…the athletes that revolutionized sports, new sports introduced, any historical controversies—I found the video of the Games hosted under Hitler to be especially fascinating for this reason. I must have spent a solid hour there, scrolling through every year I have been able to watch on television, a few historically important ones, and the Games hosted in any city I’ll be visiting in the future out of sheer curiosity.

The third and final level of the museum is all about the athletes. You walk downstairs and there’s a ton of mannequins dressed in the old workout clothing of each country. There are simulators for you to test balance, reflexes, speed, etc. at the rate of an Olympic athlete, and they make you feel like you are so out of shape you should never get off the couch. There are interactive booths that let you sit down and view special interviews set up with famous athletes that simulate an environment where it feels like they’re talking directly to you. There’s an entire section on doping where I learned I’d be a really bad judge of character because I took a test just to be told I have no idea how to properly spot people doping. It’s all so interesting really.

But the best part is at the very end. They have the medal room. An entire room featuring a silver, bronze, and gold from every Olympics ever. It’s so fascinating to see the basicness of Athens 1896 (the gold was unfortunately missing to be cleaned) to the intricacy of Sochi 2014.

Right before you exit, you stumble into an actual Olympic podium from Sydney’s 2000 Olympics. Naturally, I needed a picture, and you know, I obviously went for the gold. Do you blame me?

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This museum is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I love museums and often wander off on my own when exploring them because my friends aren’t as into them as I am, but this is a museum that even the most reluctant museum goer will be interested in. Heavy on interactive experiences, you decide how long you spend in there by indicating what you are interested in and exploring with that in mind. I would go back if I ever find myself in Lausanne, Switzerland again. I will say this: Lausanne is a one-day kind of trip. While it holds such importance to the Olympics it’s a very small city with not a lot to do, so the Olympics Museum is more like a stop-over on a larger journey to, say, Interlaken or Bern, but it is a stop-over that is so, so worth it.