Despite sharing the court with superstars like Apolo Ohno, Dikembe Mutombo, Dale Moss, and Drew Baldwin, the star of the Special Olympics Unified Floorball game quickly proved to be the young man in goal who nobody knew before the match began. As the teams took to the court, Kydon Mena, a goalie from Special Olympics Gibraltar made his way to the front of the net with assistance from his teammate, Apolo Ohno. Mena, who lives with cerebral palsy, is unable to walk on his own. In floorball, however, goalies play on their knees, which turns Mena’s disability into a unique advantage. As the match progressed, Mena made save after save, leaving his teammates and the fans watching awed by his courage, determination, and skill. Mena’s memorable performance was one of many during the Unified Sports Experiences at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
For the third straight World Games, a team of employees from Brightspot coordinated the Unified Sports Experiences, a series of exhibition competitions that pair Special Olympics athletes with foreign dignitaries, celebrities, professional athletes, and other honored guests as teammates. Unified Sports Experiences aim to change perceptions and create greater understanding by inspiring communities not only to play unified, but also to live unified.
Broken into two teams of six and split between Graz and Schladming, Brightspot employees organized eight Unified Sports Experiences, ranging from snowboarding and alpine skiing to speed skating and floor hockey. During the week of competition, Brightspot employees coordinated with venue and sport directors to create memorable experiences for both the athletes and the guests. Managing every last detail from uniforms to roster composition to event rules to awards, the Brightspot volunteer team played a critical role in Austria and ensured the events were executed smoothly. In some cases, Brightspot employees even filled in at the last minute to compete alongside the athletes.
For the Special Olympics athletes, the opportunity to Play Unified alongside superstars such as Michelle Kwan, Donna de Varona, Tim Shriver, and Hannah Teter, among others was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The experience, however, was even more memorable for the celebrity participants who took to the slopes, the courts, and the ice rink as teammates.
In between their exhausting days volunteering, Brightspot employees also found time to explore the sites around Austria. The team in Graz trekked up nearly 300 steps to the top of Schlossberg to take in a panoramic view of the city and visited the Eggenberg Palace, while the volunteers in Schladming spent their free day skiing down the Dachstein Glacier and eating at an Arnold Schwarzenegger themed restaurant.
Since 2011, when Unified Sports Experiences debuted at the World Summer Games in Athens, Brightspot has helped lead the way in supporting these game-changing opportunities. Learn more about how you can join the Unified Generation at PlayUnified.org.
In Their Own Words
"Traveling to Austria for Special Olympics World Games was incredible. I learned that hard work, at end of the day, can be so incredibly rewarding, especially when you get to see a smile on someone's face or know you helped make someone's day. Being in Austria and simply walking by and smiling at a stranger because you were there for a similar cause was so incredibly powerful. The joy of Special Olympics brightens everybody's day and I was blessed to be apart of it."
"The World Games was a very unique experience for me. It taught me the value of working in a group environment. Together, we were able to get so much done. Also, seeing the athletes and how motived they were really inspired me. Watching them overcome the challenges they face taught me that you can still aim high and with the right attitude and belief in your abilities, you can achieve those dreams."
"I was inspired every single moment. This event reminded me that with perseverance, we can all accomplish outstanding feats."