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 Austria 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games

2017WorldGamesAustrialogoStarting with the Opening Ceremony on March 18, the Special Olympics World Winter Games will be held in Graz, Austria! The Flame of Hope has already been lit and has started traveling on its way to Austria. The sports of these Games will be Figure Skating, Speed Skating, Floor Hockey, Floorball, Snowshoeing, Alpine Skiing, Nordic Skiing, Snowboarding, and Stick Shooting. Special Olympics New York City’s Unified Floor Hockey team and two of Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s speed skaters will be competing!

ESPN will be airing live coverage of the Games. Here is the schedule. I’ll be volunteering at the Games and will be at the Opening Ceremony, so make sure to look for me!

Saturday, March 18, 2-5 pm EST, ABC – Live: Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 Opening Ceremony

Sunday, March 19, 2-3 pm EST, ABC – Coverage of the Games

Monday, March 20, 6-6:30 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Tuesday, March 21, 6-7 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Wednesday, March 22, 6-7 pm ESt, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Thursday, March 23, 6-7 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Friday, March 24, 6-7 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Sunday, March 26, 2-3 pm EST, ABC – Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 – Best of the Games

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! 🙂

The Athens 2004 Opening Ceremony

When I was interning for Special Olympic NYC last spring, I met Annamaria who was also an intern. In 2004, she attended the Opening Ceremony for the Athens 2004 Olympics with her family. The Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony is one week from today, so I asked her about her experience at the Athens Ceremony 12 years ago.

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Annamaria with her grandpa at the Opening Ceremony

The Olympics of Blogs: How old were you when you watched the Athens 2004 Opening Ceremony?

Annamaria: I was 10 years old.

The Olympics of Blogs: What was your favorite part?

Annamaria: The entire ceremony was amazing, but if I had to choose one part, it was when there were two men beating a drum. One on screen at the site Olympia and one in the stadium. Immediately after this, a flame flew into the Olympic stadium and created the Olympic rings. I remember that being a powerful moment and apparently the drum beats were supposed to represent the beating of the heart.

Here is a video of that moment! Click the link to open it on YouTube!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2atZjcBqs4

The Olympics of Blogs: As someone who is Greek and American, do you think that you experienced the Ceremony differently from people of different nationalities?

Annamaria: I would say for Greek people from Greece and around the world, this Ceremony was very important to them and once in a lifetime. I was very proud to have the Olympic Games back at home in Greece and very grateful that I could experience the Ceremony in person. I also think the Olympics are very important to Americans, and they also have a lot of pride as well. So it was a really special night, experiencing the entire ceremony as both a proud Greek and American. We had both the American and Greek flag with us; this made the whole experience of cheering for the Greek and American athletes really fun! We were cheering for everyone though. The people sitting near us were from different areas around the world, so we were cheering with them too and just having a great time!

The Olympics of Blogs: Could you describe the ceremony?

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Annamaria: The entire ceremony felt surreal. I was sad when it ended because I didn’t want it to end! It was a very well put together ceremony and very symbolic, which ties in with the importance of symbolism and philosophy in Greek history and culture. A large portion of the ceremony was the procession of the history of Greece until modern day. It was so beautiful to watch. A moment that stuck out to me the most was when the athletes from Iraq walked out. The entire stadium started cheering very loud for them to support them, given the political tensions that were happening around the world at that time. It really proves how the Olympics can be unifying and bring peace during times of political division in the world. Overall, the entire ceremony was beautiful and well put together. The feeling in the stadium was full of happiness, excitement, and pride from everyone.
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I’m still working on trying to get Opening Ceremony tickets of my own! We’ll see how that goes as we get closer to August 5. Only 7 days to go until the 2016 Rio Opening Ceremony.

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

From SONY to SOSC

May 13 was my last day at Special Olympics New York City. I was really sad to leave because the employees and athletes had become my family. I will definitely volunteer with them again in the fall because interning at Special Olympics NYC changed my life. I started out very quiet but determined to be a good intern, and I ended as a super intern with a really strong passion for Special Olympics!

IMG_2151.jpgHere is a look back at my five favorite parts of interning at Special Olympics NYC:

  1. Fall State Games

This was my first State Games as an intern, and I really enjoyed it! It was different from my first New York State Games because I actually knew a lot of the staff and the athletes, and I was there with my friends/co-workers from Special Olympics NYC, Amy, Kaitlin, Sam, and Bill. I was stationed at Equestrian, which was so much fun to see. Before that, I had never seen Special Olympics Equestrian because NYC doesn’t have it. All in all, it was a magical experience. Seeing the love Special Olympics athletes have for their sports while they’re competing makes me so happy, and that love was definitely there all day.

Here’s my blog post about the Fall State Games:    https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/special-olympics-new-york-fall-state-games/

2. Metro Tournament

This was my first Special Olympics NYC competition, and it took place May 30, 2015, right after I started my internship. This day was so exciting, and it gave me a really good look into Special Olympics. I met some awesome athletes, including three athletes who ran the Flame of Hope in with Law Enforcement officers, Valerie (who won a gold medal at the National Games), Thomas (who would compete at the World Games later in the summer), and Doug (Thomas’ dad and also a fierce Special Olympics competitor). I took photos throughout the day, and being given free reign to wander around the competition allowed me to fully immerse myself in Special Olympics. My favorite event was the Powerlifting because each Powerlifter competed with a different persona (see the photo below of the Skullcrusher).

Here’s my blog post about the Metro Tournament:    https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/countdown-to-the-world-games-day-3/

3. Halloween!

Although this wasn’t an official Special Olympics event, it still is one of my favorite moments while working at Special Olympics New York. Luckily Halloween fell on a Friday, so I was able to celebrate it while at the office! The day contained a lot of eating, sugar highs, scaring people with masks, and a piñata! It was a really fun day spent being with my Special Olympics family. ❤

4. Winter State Games

These Games had some of the best competition that I’ve seen since I’ve started working for Special Olympics. Thanks to a really nice volunteer photographer, I was able to see Cross-Country Skiing, Alpine Skiing, Snowshoe, and Figure Skating, in addition to watching the Opening Ceremony and dancing in the Closing Ceremony! Watching the skiing and snowshoe competitions was really fun because I have no background in those sports. I had never even watched someone ski in real life before! Of course, the Figure Skating was still my favorite. I love watching the athletes play to the audience and seeing the audience react with cheers and applause.

Here’s my blog post about the 2016 Winter State Games: https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/the-2016-winter-state-games/

5. Anytime with Special Olympics Athletes

Special Olympics athletes are some of the best people I know. After a year at Special Olympics New York, I know how hard they work to accomplish everything they do, and it’s really amazing and inspiring.

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It has been an incredible year at Special Olympics New York City. Last summer, I said I pass the flame for happiness, and Special Olympics does mean happiness for me.  Even though I left Special Olympics New York, I’m carrying that flame of happiness with me to my internship at Special Olympics Southern California this summer. Thank you to everyone who made Special Olympics New York special. 🙂

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The 2016 Winter State Games

One of the things that makes me happiest is Special Olympics competitions. I love supporting the athletes, and I love watching them win. This past weekend at Special Olympics New York’s Winter State Games, I was able to do just that, which probably explains why I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the Games.

Special Olympics New York’s Winter State Games, one of three state competitions where athletes from around New York qualify to compete, was held February 19 and 20 in Poughkeepsie, New York. The town of Poughkeepsie was an amazing host and even put up Special Olympics New York flags around the town and featured our athletes on the front page of the newspaper.

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The Games started with an Opening Ceremony in the Mid-Hudson Civic Center. The amount of love and support inside of the Civic Center was astounding. The stands were completely filled, the lines of volunteers cheering and high fiving athletes during the Parade of Athletes were tireless and loud, and the speeches were heartfelt. Many people from the community who had done a lot of work planning the Games spoke, as well as Thomas Adimari, the Hudson Valley athlete who competed in Tennis at the World Games. After the speeches and the Athletes’ Oath, it was time for the torch to be run in.

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IMG_8710At every State Games, law enforcement officers run alongside an athlete carrying the Flame of Hope. Together, they light the cauldron together. This is always my favorite part, and this time definitely didn’t disappoint.

The next day, I was able to go to two different venues, thanks to one of my friends who is a very good Special Olympics volunteer photographer. First, we went to Holiday Mountain, where the Cross-Country Skiing, Alpine Skiing, and Snowshoe took place.

IMG_8755Because there wasn’t enough snow, the Cross-Country Skiing competition was held on a field that was packed with snow. Volunteers had marked lanes for each skier to go down. It was really fun to watch! I hadn’t seen anything like it before, and the competition was very fast-paced with a lot of volunteers cheering the athletes. Snowshoe was held on the same course, but it was later in the day.

While at Holiday Mountain, I also watched Alpine Skiing. The athletes skied down the hill and had to go around gates. It looked like the slalom event in the Olympics.

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After skiing, we traveled to the Figure Skating, which I was very happy to see. Many of the skaters who I saw at last year’s State Games were there, so it was cool to recognize them and to know some of their names. While watching the skaters, I got chills because their routines were all so beautiful, and I could tell that they put their hearts and souls into everything they did on the ice. All of the skaters had fun routines. One of my favorite routines was a skater who dressed like Charlie Brown and skated to Linus and Lucy’s theme. There was also someone who performed to “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift and another skater who skated to a song from Grease and dressed like a Pink Lady.

Then, around 8 pm, Closing Ceremony or the Victory Dance was held. I missed this last year, so this was a new experience for me. Basically, all of the athletes and a lot of the staff and coaches let loose and dance together. The athletes wear their medals and celebrate their accomplishments. Although we were all very tired by that time, we had fun. And then, the Winter Games were over for another year, and everyone went home happier than they had been. Athletes had more medals to celebrate and add to their collection, volunteers had new experiences to cherish, and I had another memory to add to my Special Olympics journey.

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Some of the athletes at the Closing Ceremony

The Olympics in Bryant Park

On a very cold night on February 5, I joined Nicole and Lena (Special Olympics New York athletes), Adam Rippon (the 2016 U.S. National Champion), Caydee Denning and John Coughlin (the 2012 U.S. National Champions), and the Skyliners (a synchronized ice skating team) at the Bryant Park ice skating rink. The show was absolutely beautiful to watch.

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The Special Olympics New York crew with Adam Rippon

I went to this event last year (see here for that blog post), but this one was even better. Lena, a Special Olympics athlete from Queens, spoke at the beginning to welcome all of the spectators to the show. She was really able to play to the crowd, and by the end of her speech, I could tell that everyone couldn’t wait for the show to start. Bank of America, the sponsor of the event, also spoke, and they presented Special Olympics New York with a $10,000 check!

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Nicole and Lena with the check!

It was really fun to be backstage with all of the athletes, and I was able to talk to them before and after they went on the ice. Nicole, a Special Olympian from Syracuse, went first, and she skated with so much passion. She was a real artist on the ice.

 

After Nicole, the pair went. They performed last year, and they seemed to have only gotten better. I couldn’t believe all the tricks they did! I’m pretty sure I watched their entire show with my mouth wide open. It was incredible.

The Skyliners were next. I had never seen a synchronized ice skating team before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect there to be so many skaters! Their performance was beautiful to watch because they were so fluid in their motions. Everyone flowed together perfectly.

Caydee and John did another small performance to keep the crowd’s excitement up because by that time, it was bitterly cold. Last, Adam Rippon performed. His skating was more like modern dance. He had all of the technical elements there, but he also invoked so much emotion into his performance. It’s not hard to see how he won the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

All in all, it was an amazing experience. I was able to watch beautiful performances in person with my friends next to me. It was a real showcase of the magic of the Olympic Movement.