Four years ago, I was an athlete competing in track and field at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece. Last week, I once again attended the World Games, but this time as a volunteer with many of my co-workers from Brightspot. Working as a volunteer provided many memorable and challenging moments.
The instant we landed in Los Angeles, we were put to work organizing the Parade of Athletes for the Opening Ceremony. As the parade began, I headed to my seat and watched the athletes march into the Coliseum. Their entrance brought wonderful memories from my experience in Athens four years earlier. It was every emotional to see all of these from around the world come into the stadium with huge smiles on their faces, as the large crowd cheered and celebrated their arrival. Our week, however, was just getting started.
Throughout the Games, our team coordinated the Unified Sports Experiences (USE), 16 exhibition events across a variety of sports that teamed up celebrities, professional athletes, dignitaries, and other honored guests with Special Olympics athletes. I volunteered at the Softball, Bocce, Football (Soccer), Bowling, Roller Skating, Sailing, and Table Tennis USE. During these events I helped organize and distribute uniforms and medals, and also cheered on the competitors from the stands. Brightspot has long been involved with Unified Sports because we want to build a more inclusive community. We love seeing people with and without intellectual disabilities competing as teammates.
I had so much fun watching all of these stars playing sports alongside Special Olympics athletes. It was touching to see these new teammates strategizing, celebrating, and taking pictures together.
The most fun, however, was when I got to join them! As we were preparing for Bowling at Lucky Strike Lanes in Downtown Los Angeles, Ashley, my co-worker, asked my if I would bowl. my face lit up and I responded " Are you serious ?!" I grabbed a pair of shoes and bowled with MTV's Johnny Bananas, David Gang, my boss and Matthew, his son. We had a great time!
As we headed home after a long, exhausting week, I was treated to special surprise around LAX. I saw pictures of myself EVERYWHERE! A picture of me from an open water swimming race in Puerto Rico had been used on posters throughout the airport!
Returning to the World Games as a volunteer provided a unique perspective and many memories, but the greatest joy was the chance to work alongside my colleagues and great friends.