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.

Phelps vs. Shark

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Tonight at 8 pm EST, you can watch Michael Phelps race a Great White Shark! As a part of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, Michael Phelps flew to Cape Town, South Africa, to swim against a Great White in a 100-meter open water race. For safety reasons, he did not swim next to the shark, and there were about 15 safety divers around. Their times were compared to identify a winner.

tv_phelps1a.jpgThe special is called Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White, and although we probably can guess who will win, who knows? Great Whites normally swim 10 miles per hour but can reach up to 35 miles per hour, but Michael Phelps has won 28 Olympic medals and wore a custom monofin (a single fin flipper that looks like a shark tail) to swim faster. Additionally, it’s a lot easier to ask Michael Phelps to swim in a straight line for 100 meters than a shark! We’ll have to see!

It will be fun to watch, and Phelps said that swimming with sharks first in the Bahamas and then in Cape Town was unbelievable. He hopes that his experience and the show on Discovery tonight will educate others about sharks. He said, “Sharks aren’t out to eat us. They’re just like us, trying to survive.”

Phelps will be in another show on Shark Week called Shark School with Michael Phelps, which airs July 30 at 8 pm EST.

Laura Wilkinson, #DreamChaser

As a follow up from my last post about Olympic comebacks, I was able to interview Laura Wilkinson for my blog! It was really amazing to talk to her, and she was so nice. I hope that she makes it to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and the Olympics of Blogs can follow her along the way!

If you’re a fan of Laura’s after reading this interview, you can book Laura to speak at your events! She loves speaking and motivating people by sharing her journey. Click here for more information.

To catch you up if you didn’t read my last post, here’s her comeback video:

The Olympics of Blogs: How do you feel about returning to diving?

Laura Wilkinson: Well, it’s fun. It’s fresh and new again, but there’s some wisdom and experience there. You know, it’s kind of a neat mix.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is it different now then when you competed in the past? Does it feel different?

Laura Wilkinson: I’m still kind of just getting started again. I haven’t been to many meets or been in that environment that much. It’s mainly just been training and getting my dives up again. So, there’s a lot of similarities, but it’s a different environment than I grew up training in and you know, it’s not the same pool. It’s a different situation, so there’s differences there. I don’t really know as far as the competing goes. I just haven’t done it enough yet.

The Olympics of Blogs: That makes sense. When’s your first big meet?

Laura Wilkinson: We have Nationals in August.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you feel ready?

Laura Wilkinson: Yes and no. I’m ready to mix it up with people. You know, we just went to our Zone meet in Moultrie [Georgia] this last weekend, and there were only 3 people, and 5 were going to qualify. There was no pressure. There was no meet atmosphere. It was kind of like, “oh well, we’re all going [to qualify].” So, I’m ready to get in that environment where you know, you’re nervous, there’s pressure, it matters. I’m excited to step back into that.

The Olympics of Blogs: Going back to when you competed at the Sydney Olympics, how
did it feel to stand on the platform before you dove? Were you focusing on the crowd or Laura_1-1just on the dive?

Laura Wilkinson: Somebody gave me really good advice before I went to the Olympics. It was a Canadian Olympian, and she had competed in her home country at the Montreal Olympics. She told me, “You know, when you get to the Olympics, enjoy the atmosphere. Enjoy the Olympic experience, but when you go to dive and it’s your time to compete, let all that go. In reality, it’s just another diving meet against people you’ve competed against before doing dives that you’ve done a hundred times. There’s nothing new there. All the new stuff is just the extra. It’s the people watching, it’s the tv, it’s the camera, it’s all just fluff. But in reality, it’s still just another meet.” I think knowing that really helped keep me grounded. I did, I soaked up the Olympics. I loved the Opening Ceremonies. I loved everything Olympics. But when it was my time to dive, I was able to just get into the meet.

The Olympics of Blogs: Did you get to walk in the Opening Ceremonies?

Laura Wilkinson: I did. I did at all three of my Olympics I got to. It was really cool.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did you compete at the Sydney Olympics with a broken foot? Just thinking about that makes me cringe.

Laura Wilkinson: Well, I had a stress fracture in my left foot, and then I completely broke three bones in my right foot, the three middle metatarsals. And, the way it broke, part of one of the bones slid underneath my foot, and it calcified to the two bones next to it, what they call a bone bridge. So, without doing surgery to rebreak it back together and fix it, we casted it the way it was to give me the best shot at trying to go to the Olympics. So, it was like walking on a sharp rock. It was really painful. I had to walk in a shoe, like a tennis shoe at all times. I even had to wear a shoe up to the 10-meter then throw it down. So, there was a lot of pain there, especially on certain dives where you put all the weight on the ball of your foot. You know that’s right where it’s broken, and then there was fear of hitting it again. So, it was a lot. It was a lot of pain, [and] it was a lot of mental stress you know. But I think it actually became a blessing because it helped me focus on the things I needed to focus on.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did it feel when you won gold?

920x920Laura Wilkinson: I didn’t really know. I knew I was doing well. I didn’t know that I was in the lead going into the last couple dives. I just knew I was kind of in the hunt, and I had made up some ground. So after I had done my last dive and there were 4 more people to still go and I couldn’t see the scoreboard, I just kept looking at my coach because he could see the scoreboard. After each person went, he’d turn around and he’d do the thing, kind of throw his arms up and go “yeah!” And finally, after the last girl went, he came running over and picked me up, and I was like “oh, we must have medaled.” But I had no idea we won until he just kept turning me around and saying, “We did it. We did it.” And it just kind of dawned on me at that point. Like oh my goodness, we won. So, it was a really neat moment that he got to tell me. I had no idea, so it was really cool.

The Olympics of Blogs: How does it feel to be the last female American diver to medal on the 10-meter platform? Do you think you could repeat winning gold in Tokyo?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s really neat. I seem to get mentioned a lot for that, but you know, at the same time, I want the U.S. to do well. It’s hard to watch some of our people come close and just not quite get there. It’s both. It’s exciting to leave that legacy, but then at the same time, I want people to follow in my footsteps. I want our country to step up and fill that void. And yeah, I don’t know. I’m kind of just focused on where I am right now. Like I do have those bigger goals, but right now, I’m just focusing on where I’m at and getting to that next step.

The Olympics of Blogs: I understand that. Do you have any advice for divers who are just starting their careers?

Laura Wilkinson: To not give up because it’s so easy to get frustrated. Diving can be a very frustrating sport. It’s a lot like golf. You do this half a second movement, and then you get frustrated, and you have all this time to wait. Then you have to try it again. It can be really aggravating. I think just stick with it and just keep going and not give up when it gets frustrating because that’s oftentimes when you’re close to figuring it out. Just keep going.

The Olympics of Blogs: That’s good advice. I remember that when I was diving, it could be so frustrating!

Laura Wilkinson: Yeah, it is. It drives you crazy. That’s why my coach is bald.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is it hard to train while having a family? Is it a lot harder with children?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s just a different dynamic. You know, I’m not doing the same kind of schedule I did before. I’m not doing 8 hours a day right now. It’s usually about half that, and once I come home, I’m Mom the rest of the time. But it is just different. It’s been a change for them with me being out of the house more this year, and one of my daughters has struggled with that a little bit. I mean, it’s like Mom going back to work. It’s just a different dynamic, so we’re all kind of adjusting to it. The really cool part is when my kids send me good luck notes. They tell me they want me to win because they want confetti to fall from the sky, you know. I came home and said I got second in the Zone meet, and my daughter said, “If you got second, then nobody must have been first.” It’s cool to watch them try to understand this and get all excited for me. It’s pretty cool to watch. And one time, my husband was filming, and I heard my son say, “That’s my Mommy!” It’s kind of cool when they’re proud of you, and it’s definitely a different dynamic, but it’s awesome.

The Olympics of Blogs: It sounds awesome! Do you think any of your kids will start diving?

Laura Wilkinson: I don’t know. One of them says she wants to, but she also told me after the Olympics last year that’s she’s going to go to the Olympics in diving, gymnastics, track, the pole vault, and something else. She had like 5 or 6 different events she was going to do at the Olympics. They’re still young. We’ll see what they choose to do.

The Olympics of Blogs: Thank you so much! I hope to see you compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics! Good luck!

Laura Wilkinson: Thanks!

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The 2017 Special Olympics PA State Summer Games

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The Area M Swim Team!

From June 1 to June 3, I finished up my role as an Assistant Coach for Special Olympics Swimming at the Special Olympics Pennsylvania State Summer Games. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done for Special Olympics, but it was also one of the best.

Area M, the Special Olympics region in PA where I live, brought 5 coaches and 18 swimmers to the Summer Games. Some of them were athletes I’ve been coaching since January, and it was so exciting to see them compete and win! Others were athletes I just met on Thursday, but we quickly became friends.

We left early Thursday morning and took a school bus to Penn State. I sat next to an athlete who was really kind and friendly. He runs his own private eye and matchmaking business, so on the ride there, he told me all about them. We were on the same bus as the Softball team, and I found out that many of the swimmers and softball players have been coming to the Summer Games for over 20 years!

When we got to Penn State, we quickly checked into the dorms, and then it was time for the first day of competition. We were lucky to have beautiful days the entire time we were there.

That night, it was the Opening Ceremony, and one of the Area M swimmers had been selected to light the torch! That was so exciting because she was one of the athletes I’d been coaching since January. Everyone in the Area M section cheered really loudly for her as she lit the torch with some police officers, and the Games were officially open!

The next two days were filled with a lot of swimming, getting to know the athletes really well, early mornings, late nights, the Athlete Dance, SportsFest, a trip to the Creamery (for ice cream!), and then it was time for us all to go home.

I was exhausted by the end, but I would do it again. I really liked getting to know the athletes. It was the most removed I had been from the actual operations, but the closest I’d been to athletes at a State Games. I definitely made a lot of great friends, and I wish all of them luck with their Fall sports!

Here’s a video I made to sum up my experience!

Trading Tuesday: Team Austria

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About month ago, I volunteered for the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. It’s amazing how fast time has gone! Like every Special Olympics event I’ve ever been to, the best part was the athletes. I arrived in Austria on March 17, and I was feeling a little lonely. Once I got into my Airbnb, I decided to go for a walk, and I chose to walk to the Hauptplatz in Graz because that’s the main square. I was so excited to find that there was a huge dance party for the World Games at the Hauptplatz!

Special Olympic athletes love dancing, and I was able to dance with Team Austria, Team Spain, and Team Chinese Taipai that night. Everyone was dancing to a DJ who was playing a lot of popular music, and it was incredible. Many times throughout the night, all the dancers did the congo line. I felt really caught up in the music and the spirit of the Games. It was the best St. Patrick’s Day I’ve ever had!

After that Friday, I kept seeing many of the athletes, and the Austrian athletes made me feel very welcome. Every time I saw them, they waved, smiled, or gave me hugs even though I couldn’t really understand them since they spoke German, and they couldn’t really understand me since I spoke English.

One of the athletes from Austria gave me this pin (Österreich is Austria in German), and it was one of the first pins I received these Games. The Austrian athletes were wonderful hosts, and they were one of the best parts of my trip to Austria. I took this picture with them on the last day I volunteered. Most of them were stick shooters and had won gold!

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Thanks for reading! Happy Trading Tuesday!

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!

Trading Tuesday: Moscow 1980

When I was at the Rio 2016 Olympics and the LA 2015 Special Olympics World Games, I traded a lot of pins with people from around the world. I’ve noticed that some people are very serious pin collectors, and there were even some at both Games who were probably only there for the pin trading! I do it because it’s a great way to start a conversation with people from other countries and because it’s fun!

Since pin trading is such an important and fun part of the Olympic Movement, I’ll showcase one of my pins on my blog every Tuesday for Trading Tuesday.

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Here’s the pin.

To start Trading Tuesday, here is an Olympic pin that my sister gave me for my birthday. She got it last summer when she went to Russia, and it is so cool because it’s from the Moscow 1980 Olympics. The bear, Misha, was the mascot of the Games. I love how his belt has the Olympic rings on it! Team USA boycotted those Games, so I doubt there are very many Moscow 1980 Olympic pins in the U.S. It was such a surprise and so awesome! Thank you, Liz! I was so excited about it.

Two cities, Moscow and Los Angeles, bid for the 1980 Olympics. Moscow won, and it was the first Olympics to be held in Eastern Europe. The United States led a boycott after President Jimmy Carter gave Russia an ultimatum: either the Soviet Union would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan or the U.S. would boycott the Olympics. The Soviet Union didn’t withdraw, and as a result, over 65 countries and regions including the U.S. boycotted the Games. The map below shows all the countries that didn’t compete.

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As a result of the United States’ boycott of the Moscow 1980 Olympics, the Soviet Union and 13 other countries boycotted the LA 1984 Olympics.

Above images from left to right: Misha the mascot with the Games’ logo, a Misha balloon at the Closing Ceremony, and Misha on a commemorative stamp. He’s a really cute mascot! 😀