At Special Olympics, while athletes are the heart of our organization our volunteers are its backbone. Each competition requires a host of responsibilities including our annual State Summer Games at ESPN Wide World of Sports where more than 4,000 volunteers dedicate their weekend to make our games a success. One of those volunteers, Skylar, shares his experiences as a volunteer and spectator during this busy competition.
The 2014 Special Olympics Florida Summer Games was truly an inspiring and fulfilling experience as more than 1,800 athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities competed for a chance to take home the gold in their respected competitions.
As athletes, we train and prepare to push our bodies beyond limits and to create new challenges. The athletes at this year’s Summer Games did just that with competitions in track and field, bocce, volleyball, cycling, soccer and tennis. It was humbling to witness the hard work and dedication these athletes put forth, and the loving support they received from friends and family.
The opening ceremony on Friday night set the tone for the weekend with a powerful introduction to State Summer Games. More than 4,000 athletes, volunteers, families and fans from across the state of Florida packed Champions Stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports to celebrate their accomplishments. Each county rejoiced in cheer when they were introduced on the field and the entire crowd erupted as fireworks announced the opening of the games. WWE Superstars also joined the opening ceremonies, signing autographs and giving hugs and high-fives to the other athletes who would compete that weekend.
Throughout the weekend, Special Olympics Florida also showcased a growing program: Project UNIFY®. Project UNIFY® is an education-based project that uses sports and education programs to activate young people to develop schools and communities where all youth are agents of change. Part of Project UNIFY® is Unified Sports, where athletes with and without disabilities play together on the same team. The commitment and dedication of these coaches, volunteers and Unified Partners is truly commendable.
Not only does the Project UNIFY® program provide mentoring and training for athletes with and without disabilities, but it also promotes acceptance as athletes develop long-lasting friendships. Some Unified Partners and athletes who were at State Summer Games have competed in these competitions together for over 20 years, and will continue to do so.
I was honored to volunteer for this event and I would recommend it to anybody. Whether you’re an athlete or spectator, it’s important that we give back our time and commit ourselves to making a difference. After learning more about Project UNIFY® and Special Olympics Florida, it’s without question that I’ll be back next year, and I hope to see you there!