Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle - July, 2018
In early July, more than 4,000 athletes and coaches and 15,000 volunteers descended on Seattle to participate in the Special Olympics USA Games. Total attendance across 14 venues was 101,500. I was very lucky to be one of them as part of Special Olympics Maryland’s media team.
I have hesitated to write a story about the Games for several reasons. How can any words describe the magnitude of the experience, the passion among the athletes, and abilities of the intellectually-disabled? How can the joy, camaraderie, friendliness, kindnesses, or all-around “having each other’s back” feelings be translated into words that do them justice? How can I explain what the entire experience has done to me on a personal level: old friendships reaffirmed, new friendships made, that feeling of belonging - not only in the media team or in Team MD athletes, coaches, family and friends but also a belonging among the 101,500 USA Games attendants?
As I spent many hours contemplating what to write, the Special Olympics Athlete Oath kept popping up in my thoughts:
Let me win.
But if I cannot win,
Let me be brave
in the attempt.
This perfectly describes all the athletes at the Games: there were many attempts made and they were all brave! As so many touching and inspirational stories have been told in the media outlets, suffice it to say that witnessing this firsthand was an unforgettable experience. What an incredible example the athletes set for all of us!
Another Special Olympics motto that really appeals to me comes to mind: Choose to Include. We need to include and welcome people with intellectual disabilities in our society! And I saw that happening at the USA Games on a very large scale. Of course, volunteers, coaches, family, friends, and other supporters were there to love and celebrate the athletes. But everyone else connected with the Games - camera operators and photographers, groundskeepers, vendors, sponsors and students on the campus where the Games took place - actively appreciated and included the Special Olympics community. And many good people of Seattle welcomed the athletes and their supporters with open arms and showed genuine interest in the Games and the people involved.
But the athletes themselves are the best model of Choose to Include, extending inclusion not just to their fellow athletes and teammates, but also to all of us cheering them on. They let us into their lives; they shared their brave attempts and accomplishments with us. They gave us their friendship and love. For all of that, I cannot thank the Special Olympics athletes enough.
Once again, the Special Olympics athletes are leading the way: in their Inclusion Revolution. It’s not just them but ANYONE who is different in any way or is facing mental disabilities who needs to be included. This is the Inclusion Pledge:
I pledge. To look for the lonely. The isolated. The left out. The challenged. The bullied.
I pledge. To overcome the fear of difference. And replace it with the power of inclusion.
As I am not an eloquent writer or speaker I’d like to stop my thoughts here and show some photos. Of course I took thousands of them and many show the athletic accomplishments but I just picked a few photos capturing the spirit of my experience.