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Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Pass the Word
Writing and Empathy: Reflections on the Special Olympics  -  Special Olympics, Proud to Play a Part
By Kristin Lee Hamerski, Interior Distance Education of Alaska (IDEA), 9th grade « Prev   Page 5 of 9   Next »

'Snowboarder' by Quinn Claypool, 11 years

In the wind, ice, and snow … in the early morning hours I found myself, not in my bed, but somewhere unfamiliar, with people I did not know. I wondered, "Why am I here? What will I do?" I was as unfamiliar with snowboarding as I was with the multitude of different languages the athletes were speaking. I soon jumped into action and found communication to be the easiest hurdle to master. A smile, I learned, transcends language barriers. I soon discovered that meeting new people from around the world was the most fun of all. I felt right at home. After the pictures and hugs, I bid the athletes goodbye, some to see again, others a cherished memory. I will forever treasure those times I spent as a volunteer for the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

I worked at a variety of the venues, the first being Olympic Town in the Egan Center. I was stationed at the arts and crafts booth where I was in charge of showing the athletes how to make such crafts as tribal chokers. I did not expect to have as much fun as I ended up having. I met so many of the teams such as Poland, Chinese Taipei, China, Argentina, Georgia (the country), Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Italy, and many, many more. Of course I met Team USA, which was quite great in number. I really learned a lot about the differences in just the states alone.

'Figure Skater' by Danielle Igtanloc,

Everyone on answering my question about how they liked Alaska responded by saying they wanted to stay longer. For so many of these athletes (Egypt, for example), it was their first glimpse of snow. I can only imagine training in the sand. I expected to have difficulties teaching some of the teams due to language and cultural differences, but I was pleasantly surprised to find we all speak with the same smile. Hand gestures and my "somewhat" knowledge of Spanish also helped. I stress the somewhat. By the end of the day I found myself many more friends richer. A better experience I could not have imagined.

In addition to the Egan Center, I also worked at the Tesoro Ice Arena where the figure skating was held. Now, I am a past competitive figure skater, so I know how stressful competition can be. Just think: this was not a local or regional competition but competition on a world scale. I was an attendant at the Athletes’ Lounge and helped get all the athletes food, drink, movies, books, and try to relieve some of the stress. I found that through talking to the athletes I could understand more than just about that person, but about that region and their families, and the people who helped support them in taking this leap into the world arena. I did get a chance to watch the skaters and found their countenance under extreme pressure to be amazing. Their skill was highly developed, and each had a very important story of how they got to where they were. Team USA, of course, dominated this sport with their numbers, some from Team Alaska, whom I helped coach. I hope if any of you had a chance to go watch the figure skating you got to meet Ernie Barker. He is one of my friends and a real sweetie.


The snowboarding was being held at Hilltop Ski Area. This year it was just an exhibition sport, meaning it is the sport’s first year in the games and does not have as many competitors as the others. I was on the Go-Team, which does anything and everything. I somehow got recruited to work on the scoreboard. I say somehow because at this point things were moving so fast I don’t remember.

The scoreboard, I soon found, was a choice job. I got to watch the actual competition and cheer on all the competitors. My official job was to record the times of the first, second, and sometimes third run, and lastly the time elapsed. I ended up learning so much about the sport because although at first I was only assigned one day at the snowboarding events, I kept getting myself invited back for the next day. All I can assume from this is I’m really good at writing down numbers.

When the scores went up and the places were determined, I could not describe the excitement on the faces of the athletes, their families, and coaches. It was truly an important moment in their lives. At the awards ceremony, I found even more excitement and joy, if that were possible. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience, and I believe I am really lucky to have played a part in this event that touched so many.

'Figure Skaters' by Eve Van Dommelen, 4th grade

In closing I would just like to emphasize the benefits to everyone and especially to teens for getting involved with Special Olympics. If you did not get a chance to help during the World Winter Games, look for a state sport to help out in. You will not be disappointed.

Volunteering in the Special Olympics State and World Winter Games has given me experiences that will last a lifetime. It taught me about being a part of a team, trying to achieve the same goals no matter how high or how much the effort, always having the grace to not only win but to lose. Whether you win or lose, how you play the game is what truly matters: giving it your all. The athletes inspired me in so many different ways to try to achieve more myself, to give life my all, and to be gracious in all things. The athletes showed me there is no limit to the human spirit or what we can accomplish if we set our minds to it and truly give it our best. Whether we succeed or fail, it’s up to us to try, to be as brave as the Special Olympic athletes, to go forward and forge further along life’s path, not letting it pass us by.

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Next page:   Special Olympics, Posing for Pictures Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 

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