The week of the 2016 Special Olympic Winter Games is a week I will never forget. This was my first time volunteering to be a part of the games, and I cannot stress enough how blessed I am to have been a part of this experience. These athletes changed my life.
When I heard about the opportunity to volunteer at the Games, my first reaction was excitement, and I went to sign up immediately. Then as I realized I would be missing a whole week of classes, I got a bit nervous. I had never missed a class before this. It didn’t take long for me to make the decision that I would go to the Games though, especially after talking with friends, families, and professors who all reassured me that the experience would be so much more than worth it. It was.
I was a volunteer for Indoor Special Events. Working the Indoor Special Events was such a good experience for me because I had the opportunity to work side by side with the athletes. My team provided the athletes with things to do during their downtime when they were not competing in their Outdoor Events. I volunteered to help first with an indoor rowing competition, in which the athletes competed against each other in heats made up of seven competitors. There were two days for timed trial runs, and on the second night, the real competition began. The first, second, and third place finishers of each heat received an award. After rowing had finished, I volunteered with Strive, which is a physical fitness test for each athlete. After each athlete signed in, I was able to take him or her around the fitness stations including a reach test, planking, squatting, and running. It was during this time that I was able to get to know the athletes better because of the one-on -one time I had with them. Among the other activities that were offered to the athletes were dancing, karaoke, and arts and crafts, which I had the opportunity to participate in alongside the athletes.
One of the things that I loved about my experience with Special Olympics was how much I got to know some of the athletes. They would come up and tell us about the events they had coming up and how they had done in their timed trial runs earlier. After the events they would come back inside and we got to see their medals and hear all about the events. While I was speaking with one of the athletes, I actually found out that he was my cousin! We got to talking and he mentioned his last name, so I asked him to repeat it. When I did this he started spelling, at which point I showed him my nametag. I found out that he lived about half an hour away from me and that he was getting married! I am so happy that I was blessed with the opportunity to meet not only my cousin, but all the athletes as well.
Probably my favorite moment of the games took place on Thursday night at the end of the closing ceremony. The ceremony opened with all of the athletes coming into the large ballroom through a tunnel created by cheering volunteers. Speeches and announcements followed, and then, led by the military and police officers who attended the games, a dance began with the two songs, “The YMCA” and “Who Let the Dogs Out?” The dance then lasted another two hours, during which time I was able to dance with all the athletes I had met over the course of the games, as well as new people I had not yet met. At the end of the dance, when the DJ announced the last song, something happened that I will never forget. Everyone – all athletes, volunteers, parents, staff, military, and police – all joined hands and lined the room. Included in this circle were people of all ages, races, genders, and occupations. In this circle, it didn’t matter who you were, or why you were there – the love and the happiness that was present in that ballroom was tangible.
Special Olympics is an experience that I am so proud and blessed to have been a part of, and I cannot wait to be back, volunteer, and see all the athletes again.