In June, a group of Brightspot employees traveled to Orlando, Florida, to help facilitate over 1,000 award ceremonies to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of athletes from across the United States and Caribbean at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
It’s a moment athletes dream about—standing on the podium, a crowd of fans cheering them on and a medal being placed around their neck. These were the beautiful, triumphant moments a group of Brightspot volunteers helped facilitate at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida, from June 4 to 11.
On Saturday, June 4, 14 Brightspot employees descended on Orlando for the 2022 USA Games. While Saturday was a day to pick up credentials and get settled in their home for the next week, they were excited to get started with their first volunteer assignment that Sunday, which involved helping pull off a surprise for the 3,700-plus athletes representing 64 delegations from the United States and Caribbean.
On that Sunday, the Brightspot volunteers headed to Orlando's Amway Center—home of the Orlando Magic—to get to work. Following the Opening Ceremony, the delegations walked over to the Amway Center to relax in the air conditioning and eat lunch. What they didn't know was that once seated, they would be treated to a performance by the Harlem Globetrotters! After the big reveal, the crowd spent the next hour oohing and aahing as the Globetrotters showed off their incredible shooting, passing and dribbling skills and even called up athletes to participate in the show.
The following day, Team Brightspot headed to the Fan Zone at the ESPN Wide World of Sports to promote the fun and excitement of Unified Sports. At the tent, Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners went head-to-head in competitions such as table soccer, cornhole, Pop-a-shot and more. Guests of all abilities and ages got in on the fun as Brightspot volunteers kept score, cheered them on and joined in the games themselves.
In addition to the opportunity to interact closely with the athletes, participating in the USA Games as a Brightspot volunteer was also a chance for some of Brightspot's remote employees to meet their coworkers in-person for the first time. On Monday night, the Brightspot volunteers gathered and cooked dinner together, while enjoying themselves and bonding with their fellow volunteers in the process.
Being a remote worker is challenging. Even though I interact with a variety of people and teams each day, it's not the same as being there in person. You really get to know people better and have interactions that let you get to know them as a human: their interests, quirks and personality. The USA Games experience made me feel more connected. It was truly a family experience where we were all working together with a shared goal and purpose.
Starting on Tuesday and for the remainder of the week, the Brightspot team facilitated over 1,000 award ceremonies at the AdventHealth Arena at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.
As leaders on the Arena Award Operations team, Brightspot managed all of the backstage and front-of-house activities on three different stages within the AdventHealth Arena. With ceremonies happening simultaneously across the three stages, the team was challenged to communicate between backstage and front-of-house to ensure all ceremonies ran smoothly.
It was an honor to be a part of the athletes' special day that I will never forget! One specific moment that stood out to me while running front-of-house was during the women's powerlifting awards ceremony. I vividly remember the pure excitement and joy on the athletes' faces when WWE wrestlers Bianca Belair, The Street Profits and 'The Alpha Academy' team of Chad Gable and Otis walked up on stage to present the awards. It was such a beautiful moment that I could never forget.
Other leadership volunteers collected and organized the athlete's personal items to help them get stage ready, matched the correct medal trays to the correct divisions and got each group in order before leading them onto the stage to bask in the glory of the moment. Once the athletes processed offstage and retrieved their personal items, volunteers made sure they were safely reunified with their loved ones, coaches and teams, Through it all, these volunteers worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the energy high.
While there were many moments that stood out to me, there was one in particular where a deaf athlete came through the awards process several times. About the third time through, I used sign language to sign her name and asked her dad (who was her interpreter) to show me how to sign 'Welcome back and congratulations!' Her face lit up so big when I did that.
With each day that passed, and as the award ceremonies went from one stage to three, each Brightspot volunteer became a subject-matter expert in their particular volunteer leadership role and trained waves of daily volunteers to get them up to speed.
For the Brightspot volunteers, the highlight of their experience was sharing many emotional moments of joy with the athletes as they prepared to take the stage.
I got a unique opportunity to present some athletes with their medals on stage. After I gave a medal to one particular athlete, he took my hand, shook it and said with such passion, 'Thank you so much for being here.' That moment reinforced what an incredibly important event the Special Olympics is for people. It made me feel so happy to be a part of the team responsible for helping the show run smoothly so the athletes could celebrate their moment of accomplishment!
The team left Orlando with sore feet and hoarse voices after a week of 12-plus hour days; more importantly, however, they left having helped thousands athletes shine.