The Special Olympics USA Games happens every four years. Hundreds of athletes, unified partners, and coaches from across the nation come to compete in unified sports in front of millions of spectators televised for people watching at home. From this experience, I learned to get out of my comfort zone and advocate for individuals with and without intellectual disabilities. A simple act of kindness around campus or the community can impact many lives. Ho’ohui Club is a safe place on campus for students to embrace who you are and spread inclusivity on campus.
In July 2018, I attended the Special Olympics USA Games Youth Leadership Experience as a high school student at Maui High. I traveled with the Hawaii Delegation which consisted of a Soccer, Basketball, Track and Field team along with Special Olympics Staff. The USA Games took place at various locations close to University of Washington.
July 1st: Special Olympics USA Games Opening Ceremony. Our attire was our white button down with a flower design with black shorts and our aloha slippers. The ceremony was televised.
My favorite part of the ceremony was the musical performances. Some of the performers were American Idol Winner Maddie Poppe singing “Going Going Gone’’ and Charlie Puth singing “See you Again’’ and “The Way I Am.”
After the opening ceremony was over, there was time to relax before heading to our Youth Leadership Opening Session. Before the opening session, my co-youth leader and mentor had to attend some meetings, including with the photographer who would be following our journey for the rest of the week. Next, we went inside to register and received miscellaneous items. The session included introductions, team building activities with our assigned group, and special guest presenters.
July 2nd: “YA Volunteer/Event Management Opportunity.” We volunteered at the Youth Athletes Festival. Our Morning Rotation was Strider Bikes where it was an obstacle course for children to practice the fundamentals of riding a bike. Next, our afternoon rotation was a Kicking Station where the child learn how to kick a soccer ball into the goalie. This was adorable and made me smile because of the impact we are making on improving their gross motor skills. Afterwards, we headed back to our dorm to relax and get ready for the Future Inclusion Forum and eat dinner. The Future of Inclusion Forum was a panel of different people including actress Lauren Potter, Microsoft President Brad Smith and an athlete from Washington, Devon Adelman. The discussion surrounded the organization’s inclusivity policies and actions. Finally, we headed back to our dorms.
July 3rd: “Fan Zone, Social Media, and Story Reporting’’. The best part was being able to watch our soccer team games while supporting them from the bleachers. After lunch, we had our story reporting which was uncomfortable at first but very easy for me at the end. We met coaches, spectators, athletes, and parents and asked them a couple of prepared questions on a recording device. I met some people who had great stories to tell and some were very memorable. Hawaii was one of the states announced at the Opening Session to be participating in the Unified Sports Experience. I have a competitive spirit and I was really excited. As the purple team, we had to wait in the gym and practice our basketball skills before we could enter the basketball court arena to compete against our opposing team. After ice cream, we headed back to our dorm for the night and went to sleep.
July 4th: ‘’Supporting the Interscholastic/Intercollegiate Competitions at Husky Stadium. From watching the basketball games, I saw that the unified partners weren’t controlling the game; the athletes were the stars and they made the shots, which I really appreciated. After, I had free time and headed to the Husky Stadium for the 4th of July Celebration and BBQ. Finally, we retired to our dorms to get some sleep.
July 5th: Volunteer Shadow Experiences. Our first shadow experience was with Ellen Anderson at the Youth Athletes Festival.. One of the lessons I learned from Ellen Anderson was to have people who are experienced and understand what they are doing. It was adorable seeing all the cute children again. Next, we met up with Lillian Navarez for our second rotation in the afternoon. I went to watch a soccer game which our delegation was playing. I learned that signage is important and to never clean up an event while it’s still going since it might send an impression to the fans to rush to get out of the stadium. Later, it was time to get ready to go to the Mariners Game. Overall, I had a great time. Afterwards, we went back to my dorm.
July 6th,: The Last Day. I got up to get ready to go to the Closing Session ‘’Leading the Inclusion Revolution’’ which was held at the Washington Athletic Club. I realized that I can be a leader for inclusion and embracing my disability was the first step. Next, we had lunch followed by free time. Our Hawaii group decided to sight-see and we ended up going to Pike Place Market, where I purchased souvenirs for my family and friends. While walking through the crowded area, I saw the famous gum wall. Later, the Closing Ceremony took place at Lake Union Park. I traded my pins with other people. I was grateful for being able to attend the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games and share everything I learned with my family, friends and high school.