It’s hard to believe that just three short years ago, I had never experienced Special Olympics, especially now since it is something that I have become very passionate about. I have participated in the last two Polar Plunges that have taken place on campus, raising money for Special Olympics Michigan. This year, I also became a Unified Sports partner, which has allowed me to play in intramural games alongside Special Olympic athletes. And, for the past two years, I have been a volunteer at the Special Olympic Winter Games.
My first year volunteering at the Games, I worked with Indoor Special Events, allowing me to meet the athletes one-on-one after they were done with their competitions for the day. This year, I worked on the other side of things. I was volunteering at the Snowshoe event. Snowshoe is the largest event at the Winter Games, as it allows each athlete to compete in separate placement heats which then place them into final rounds of competition.
One of the most memorable moments from the Games this year was during one of the very first Snowshoe races. I was stationed at the finish line, cheering on athletes during the races, congratulating them, and directing them to the awards ceremony after they had finished. As I sat at the finish line of the fourth or fifth heat of the day, I noticed a familiar face racing toward me. It was King Sam, one of the athletes that I had gotten to know pretty well the previous year while I was working at Indoor Special Events. About halfway through the race, I noticed
that King Sam saw me, and by the look on his face, it was instantly apparent that he remembered me from last year. The moment Sam crossed the finish line, I was immediately given the largest hug I’ve received in a while, and was greeted with, “Hey! What are you doing out here? You’re supposed to be inside like last time aren’t you?” I told Sam that I had a different job this year, and that I would be taking him to the awards ceremony now that he had finished his race. Watching King Sam stand up on the podium and smile down at me while he was getting his medal placed around his neck is a feeling that I hope I never forget.
There are so many moments like this that happen within Special Olympics. The people – both athletes and volunteers – who come to the Games each year, have had such a tremendous impact on me. This is a community that, because of the amount of genuine love and inclusiveness, I forever hope to stay a part of.