The Michigan Special Olympics Headquarters is located in Mt. Pleasant Michigan, which allows for Central Michigan University students to have the opportunity to get involved with their programs. A few months ago I woke up early in the morning to be one of the first 100 people to sign up as a volunteer for the SOMI Winter Games. I was very fortunate to receive a spot for this amazing experience. The event was held January 31st to February 3rd, 2017.
I arrived at Grand Traverse Resort and got settled in. Then I attended the volunteer meeting where I got to know the others who would be working at my assigned group of “Outdoor Special Events”. Following this I attended dinner with the athletes and fellow volunteers. It was surreal seeing the number of athletes that attend this event and the elaborate planning that has gone into setting up the games. The enthusiasm was radiating throughout the conference area of the resort. Tuesday night I attended the broom ball preliminary competitions and played snow volleyball with athletes. This was one of the few times over the week that I got to see the athletes actually competing. At the broom ball games it was exciting to see how passionate the athletes are about competing. Special Olympics provides diverse skilled athletes to compete with the same passion as their average peers.
I began the day at the sledding hill outside of the resort. At this job I had the opportunity to spend quality time with the athletes as they got the opportunity to sled between their events. I hung out with the athletes and talked to them about their events and got to know them and their personalities. I loved how despite the freezing cold conditions, the athletes were continually excited to partake in all the activities and give their all to their competitions. It was so heartwarming to be around a group of genuinely happy people. Later on in the afternoon I volunteered at the horse drawn carriage rides where I assisted athletes on and off the carriages. Once again I had the opportunity to hangout with and get to know the athletes.
In the evening I attended the Winter Games Opening Ceremony. Volunteers created tunnels for the athletes to run through as the entered the ceremony. This was probably my favorite part of the whole week. Music was playing over the speakers as the athletes danced their ways down the isles. My heart was so full witnessing the joy this population has for life. Every person had a zest for life that I wish to have. No one cared about how the looked or what others thought of them, they sang at the top of their lungs and danced their hearts out.
During the ceremony I learned about an organization called Wertz Warriors. Wertz Warriors is a group that was created in 1981 by former Detroit Tiger, Vic Wertz. Wertz Warriors snowmobile across the state of Michigan raising money for Special Olympics. This year the group was able to present Special Olympics a check for $285,000. It was evident that not only was the Special Olympics Organization grateful for this donation, but every single athlete and parent filling the room.
I partook in the same activities on Thursday as I had on Wednesday.
In the evening I attended the closing ceremony for the Winter Games. At this ceremony, awards were presented to athletes who not only have been extraordinary in their sport, but in their communities. These presentations were amazing to watch because they demonstrated something I am very passionate about. People with disabilities are no less capable than their average peers. They all have the ability to be successful and great.
“Where ability outshines disability”
Special Olympics advocates the idea that ability comes first. Two rewards were given at the closing ceremony. Each to a person with intellectual disability who made outstanding contribution to their athletics and community through hard work and passion. Each athlete participates in multiple sports throughout the year and influence others through their infectious positivity. Along with their successes in competition, each athlete spends numerous hours volunteering and serving others. It was an uplifting experience to witness these deserving athletes be recognized for their hard work and strides to improving the world around them.
Unfortunately I did not get to witness very much of the competing that went on during the games. But I want to end with a quote from the Special Olympics motto
“Let me win. If I cannot win, let me be brave in my attempt”
Give everyone the chance to go out and be successful. Allow everyone the chance to strive for greatness. No matter win or lose, give everyone the opportunity to do it with dignity.
Special Olympics was an experience I am forever greatful for. I am excited to continue to grow and learn as I attend many more events in the future.