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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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.

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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!

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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:

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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.

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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.)

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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:

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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 ❤
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Happy New Year in Portuguese

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

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.” 

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– 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

“Smiling Is My Favorite Sport.”

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Time to play softball!

Last Saturday, Special Olympics New York – New York City hosted a Regional Softball Tournament on Randall’s Island. While there, athletes competed on softball teams or in individual skills. Both types of softball were really exciting to watch, and as always, the athletes didn’t disappoint. They were so happy to be there. One of the softball skills athletes even told me, “Smiling is my favorite sport,” which of course made me smile. That athlete then proceeded to win gold in his division, and his smile was huge. He won in softball skills and at his favorite sport, smiling.

It was a really fun day for the athletes, staff, volunteers, and referees. It was beautiful outside, and everyone was happy to be outside on such a nice day. The day began with the athletes warming up, volunteers arriving, and the Parade of Athletes, which is always my favorite part. Volunteers formed two lines, and athletes from every team and borough run in the middle and high five or hug every volunteer. An athlete even stuck his arms out, so he could high five both sides of volunteers. It really built the excitement for the volunteers and the athletes.

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Laura Behnke, a sports anchor at WABC, was the MC of the event. She welcomed everyone there, and then the two IMG_6653selected athletes ran in with the torch. They were from the Manhattan Wildcats because Manhattan was hosting the tournament. By this time, we were all so excited for the games to start, but first, an athlete had to lead everyone in the Athletes’ Oath. Everyone, including the volunteers, repeated “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” And with that, it was time for the day to begin!

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I traveled around the fields taking photos throughout the day. I had never been that close to a softball game, so it was a very cool and new experience for me. At first, I was worried that I would mess the players up if I was on the field taking photos, but one of the coaches told me the athletes loved it. I’m really glad that I watched part of the Little League World Series this summer because I was able to understand more of what was happening.

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This was my first time really watching Special Olympics teams interact, and I loved it. The teams were true teams; they were all in it together. If someone struck out and was upset, at least two of his or her teammates came over and helped that person feel better. They knew, unlike most sports teams, that one of the goals was to win but the other goal was to be teamplayers.

The skills portion of the tournament happened at the same time as the softball games, and I really enjoyed watching it. Some athletes who competed in skills came with teams, and some didn’t. Athletes competed in hitting, fielding, throwing, and base running. The goal of skills is to include athletes who are still learning the type of skills needed to play on a team.

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Hitting

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Fielding

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Throwing

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Base Running

After the skills were over, it was time for the Awards Ceremony! This was one of my favorite parts of the day because no matter what medal the athletes won, they were still so excited and proud of themselves.

Here are some of the photos of athletes celebrating their medals in style:

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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.

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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.

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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!
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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:

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Here is an athlete’s LA 2015 inspired hairdo. You can see the Reach Up LA logo. So cool!

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Here I am with an athlete from Venezuela. He came and introduced himself to all of the Fan Zone volunteers.

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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.

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She won gold in horseback riding!

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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.

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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.