2015 World Games: Day 8 — Missouri Proud

This is the seventh blog post (find others on our blog homepage!) in a series from Special Olympics Missouri Public Relations Manager Brandon Schatsiek who is in Los Angeles  covering the 13 Missouri athletes competing for Special Olympics USA at the 2015 World Games.

Well, it’s been a long week here in Los Angeles for our Missouri guys competing in tennis and softball, but it’s been an even longer year-plus that these athletes have been training after being named to the team in July 2014. I think if you asked all of them they’d say that their goal was to win the gold, but I also believe that they would have been content with anything because the overall experience they’ve received this week would be better than any pretty medal.

DSC_0695 (Copy)Both Bobby and the softball team played really, REALLY hard today in their respective gold-medal matches, but both couldn’t quite beat their opponent who were both ridiculously good today.

Bobby played an athlete from Russia who was just a tad better than Bobby right now and Bobby admitted as much in his postgame interview. Bobby did have a brief lead in both sets, but I don’t think they were ever more than by one and even then, the Russian athlete’s serves were like a professional tennis player’s serves and that made it really difficult for Bobby to keep returning them and break his serve. The good serves that Bobby did get in were handled rather easily on the opposite side of the court. Bobby had quite the cheering section that included family members, tennis team members, SOMO staff and friends and more, which you could tell he appreciated in between points.

Both games were closer than it looked and Bobby certainly made all of us in attendance and those cheering from afar… Missouri Proud.

The softball team knew they had a tough game against Special Olympics USA — Arizona because AZ was a team that started in the top division after the first few games and somehow found their way into the second division with Canada, Mexico and USA — Missouri after just one game. While our guys knew they could certainly hold their own against them, they also realized they couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and really needed to make them pay for their own mistakes.

DSC_0824 (Copy)Unfortunately today, the USA-Arizona squad didn’t make any mistakes and USA-Missouri made too many to keep the game close and lost 22-5. After months of phenomenal defense, the Missouri defense made several mistakes per game, which cost the team runs and ultimately came back to bite them in the butt.

The team dug itself yet another huge hole to climb out of in the first inning, losing 10-0 after 1 and 20-0 after the second. The Arizona team truly should have been in the top division because they had hardly any weaknesses, while most of the teams in the second division had several trouble spots whether it was in the lineup or in the outfield.

Disappointed as they were (and this goes for Bobby too), they tried their best and that’s all we could ever ask of them. Personally, I’m so proud of each and every one of our guys for getting this far and competing on the world stage. They’ve overcome so much in their lives getting here and winning the silver medal shouldn’t be seen as a consolation prize as much as it is yet another success story in their lives already filled with them.

The World Games have come to a close for Sarah and me. We were so excited to spend our summer vacation traveling around LA and chronicling our Missouri boys competing this summer. We will not have a blog from Closing Ceremony as we’re leaving Sunday before the actual ceremony. It’s been a privilege to keep you all in the loop back home and we hope that this helped you feel like you were there watching and cheering them on.

As always, more photos are available on our Flickr album or our Facebook page and you can follow along during the day with live updates from the games by following our social media accounts (Facebook & Twitter).

2015 World Games: Day 7 — Revenge is Ours!

This is the sixth blog post (find others on our blog homepage!) in a series from Special Olympics Missouri Public Relations Manager Brandon Schatsiek who is in Los Angeles  covering the 13 Missouri athletes competing for Special Olympics USA at the 2015 World Games.

Sarah and I had some downtime Friday morning, so we wanted to check out other sports and headed to the LA Convention Center where we watched powerlifting, table tennis, bocce, handball and badminton.

I will probably always think that powerlifitng is the absolute best Special Olympics sport to watch just because it’s probably the only sport where the crowd actually plays a role in getting the athlete to accomplish their goal. Because it’s so loud with everyone cheering them on from beginning to end, I think that little extra push to complete the lift can come from the athlete feeding off of the crowd. We saw a ton of great powerlifters, but I still say that Brianne Chavez could wipe the floor with all of them — female OR male.

I knew enough about handball from watching it at the Olympics every four years, but watching it in person really made me want to get out there and play with them. I think it’d be a really fun sport to play and I really want to make it possible in Missouri. So let’s see, that puts me up to three sports that I want in Missouri or the Jeff City area with soccer and cycling. One at a time, I suppose…

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Following  a quick visit at the Convention Center we headed to Easton Stadium to watch the softball team try and beat Canada for the first time in three games with a berth in the gold medal match on the line.

Because they were the No. 3 seed and Canada was the No. 2 seed, the US team was the away team and got to bat first. So what was it going to be for our guys? Was the narrative of slow starts and struggles against our friends from the north going to continue or could our guys turn it around now that the games actually mattered?

DSC_0330 (Copy)They ended up crushing one of the narratives and plated five runs in the inning before Canada even recorded an out. Again, they were incredibly patient at the plate and putting the Canadian pitcher into counts where he had to throw meatballs over the heart of the plate. A couple of smart lineup switches moving guys up and down the lineup paid off in the first inning where SO USA-Missouri led 5-0 after their top of the inning.

DSC_0363 (2) (Copy)That’s all fine and well, but another story of the week had been that while our guys could score runs with the best of them, they had trouble limiting damage when they were in the field, whether it was due to throwing or fielding errors or pitching being slightly off. Luckilly for them today, another narrative was disregarded as the guys gave up a couple of base-runners, but ultimately allowed 0 runs. A day after really struggling with the strikezone, Jeremy Tucker pitched a beautiful game consistently getting ahead of the batters with called strikes when Canada went to the plate looking at most first pitches to wait until Jeremy pitched a strike. He was one of my MVPs for the game, that’s for sure.

The second inning was more of the same for the US and Canada as our guys added six runs (all batters 1-6 in the order scored) in the top and held Canada to only one in the bottom and led 11-1 after two innings. The defense was superb throughout with great plays by Nick Short and Tim Kunz that come to mind immediately.

The guys scored six more runs in the top of the 3rd, thanks to the top six batters scoring yet again) and pushed their lead to 17-1 before Canada added four in the bottom of the 3rd, mostly helped by a mammoth homerun over the centerfield wall, but that was as close as they’d get as each team was held scoreless in the 4th.

Jeremy made a great stabbing play on a comebacker up the middle to end the game and kick off the celebration on the field. Chants of U-S-A rang from the other Missourians in the crowd and quite a few fans and volunteers in the stadium that have been privileged to watch the team play over the last few days. The guys were so elated they were just screaming with smiles from ear to ear.

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I know that I’m not technically part of the team, but I’ve been lucky enough to attend most of their practices over the last year and really gotten to know them when I didn’t know very many beforehand. I’ve seen them really grow in the past 12-plus months and regardless of how they do against USA-Arizona tomorrow in the gold medal match, I’m so proud of them. They faced a lot of adversity in the games leading up to this against some great competition and figured out how to beat the team that gave them fits when it mattered most.

Bobby plays for his gold medal in singles vs. Russia on Saturday morning at 10.


2015 World Games: Day 6 — Bobby stays hot, Canada wins 2nd matchup

This is the fifth blog post (find others on our blog homepage!) in a series from Special Olympics Missouri Public Relations Manager Brandon Schatsiek who is in Los Angeles covering the 13 Missouri athletes competing for Special Olympics USA at the 2015 World Games.

Despite their appetite for revenge after losing to Canada just a few days ago, our softball team fell in a much closer match-up Thursday 15-13. In the afternoon, Bobby and his partner from California, Jeff Scott, received their gold medals for doubles competition and later that evening they had the opportunity to play Unified tennis with tennis legend Pete Sampras and other athletes and celebrities!

DSC_0935 DSC_0932 DSC_0874No surprise that the softball team got off to ANOTHER slow start with a morning game (10 a.m. local start time) as they worked a lead-off walk in the top of the 1st, but then went down in order with three weak ground balls. Canada would then put up 11 runs (yes, 11) in the bottom half of the inning, most of which were before the guys could even record an out. It certainly wasn’t how the team wanted to start the game and quite a few of them were hanging their heads as they came off the field to take their at-bats in the top of the 2nd. Coach Shaffer did everything she could to get the guys to forget about what happened and reiterate that the game was far from over. They donned their rally hats early and often Thursday and and it nearly worked.

They scored 8 runs in the top of the inning and had a chance with the bases loaded and two outs to tie the game or take the lead in the inning, but Canada finally stopped the bleeding and headed to the bottom half of the 2nd with a four run lead. They would get four runs back in the bottom of the inning to extend their lead and while our guys would eventually pull within two runs, the time limit was running out on them after they couldn’t tie the game in the top of the 3rd. The game ended 15-13, but what was most impressive was the guys didn’t give up despite being down by such a large amount after only the 1st inning.DSC_0939 (Copy)

Arthur Murphy and James Johnson continued their hot streaks at the plate as Arthur hit a homerun down the left-field line and James barely missed one off the top of the wall in right. Arthur just BARELY missed a HR off the top of the wall the day before, so it was cool to see him deposit one over the fence on Thursday.

Immediately after the softball team’s game, we rushed over just in time to catch the majority of Bobby’s singles match vs. Italy. As usual, Bobby was just amazing. Having the media credential allows me to be on the outside of the court during the game and it also allows me to really see up close and appreciate how great he is at tennis. I’ve played him a handful of times at Sports Camp in the past and he kills me every time. That’s not saying much because I’m not good at tennis, but he just has this way of picking his spots on when to be aggressive and when to let his opponent make the mistake rather than force the issue himself. He was superb today and won a closer match than the final score of 6-2, 6-4 indicates.

Bobby and Jeff pose for a photo with tennis legend Pete Sampras

Bobby and Jeff pose for a photo with tennis legend Pete Sampras

Bobby high-five Sampras

Bobby high-five Sampras

Bobby and Jeff celebrate their gold medal

Bobby and Jeff celebrate their gold medal

DSC_0941 (Copy)Earlier this week, three of our softball guys were able to take part in a Unified softball experience with professional ball players and celebrities and on Thursday night Bobby had that same opportunity for tennis. Originally it was only supposed to be two USA athletes, but four more spots opened up and Bobby was selected. Going in we had no idea who would be there and/or who he’d end up playing with, but lucky for Bobby he was able to play with tennis legend Pete Sampras! They did these Unified Sports experiences in New Jersey for the 2014 USA Games and I think they’re one of the best aspects of a World Games or USA Games. They allow our athletes to just relax and play the sport they love with people they look up to, many of which probably don’t have much experience interacting with people with intellectual disabilities. It was so awesome to watch Bobby smile ear to ear the whole time he was playing with Sampras. All thirteen of our Missouri boys have been spoiled this week with special experiences like this and I’m sure none will forget anytime soon.

Friday, July 31:
1 p.m. softball vs. Canada with a berth in the gold medal game on the line #ThirdTimeIsTheCharm 
Saturday, Aug. 1:
10 a.m. Bobby’s singles match vs. Russia for the gold medal; softball TBD

As always, more photos are available on our Flickr album or our Facebook page and you can follow along during the day with live updates from the games by following our social media accounts (Facebook & Twitter).

2015 World Games: Day 5 — Missouri’s first medal!

This is the fifth blog post (find others on our blog homepage!) in a series from Special Olympics Missouri Public Relations Manager Brandon Schatsiek who is in Los Angeles covering the 13 Missouri athletes competing for Special Olympics USA at the 2015 World Games.

While Sarah and I were enjoying a day off at the museums, stores and beaches around southern California, our good ole’ Missouri boys were busy kicking butt at UCLA.

Bobby Williams, second from left, poses for a photo with his coaches and his doubles partner Jeff Scott from California. Thanks to Bobby's mom for the photo!

Bobby Williams, second from left, poses for a photo with his coaches and his doubles partner Jeff Scott from California. Thanks to Bobby’s mom for the photo!

First up was Bobby Williams who took to the court with Jeff Scott from California vs. Switzerland early this morning and dominated them winning 6-1, 6-1 and were in command the whole way. Their gold-medal match came in the afternoon against Belgium and Bobby’s mom said it was a great one. After falling behind in the first set 4-0, they came all the way back to win 6-4. They dropped the second set 4-6, but won in a close tiebreak 10-8 for the gold medal! Bobby’s mom said he and Jeff, despite not playing together in doubles before World Games, played really well together and Bobby had some really great shots. The guys will receive their gold medals at 2 p.m. on Thursday. We’re so proud of you, Bobby!

Bobby’s singles match will begin at 11 a.m. Thursday.

The softball team played Mexico again for the second time in two days and while this game was closer than the first, our guys still won 16-13. Coach Shaffer said the team started much better today than in past games and led 5-4 after the 1st. The game was a tense one with the US leading after three innings 14-7, but they failed to shut the door on Mexico and scored 0 runs in the 4th, while Mexico plated 6, bringing it to 14-13 US after four innings. Robin Anderson said she was nearly having a heart attack in the stands, the game was so close, but in the end, our guys added two runs in the top of the 5th and held Mexico to 0 in the bottom to end the game 16-13.

Coach Shaffer said James Johnson continued his hot streak at the plate with two hits in the game, while the defense overall was pretty good. What mistakes did happen weren’t followed by other mistakes and that was key. The team was able to put the errors behind them quickly and move on.

They look for revenge against the only team to beat them so far this week: Canada. The game is at 10 a.m. at UCLA.

As always, more photos are available on our Flickr album or our Facebook page and you can follow along during the day with live updates from the games by following our social media accounts (Facebook & Twitter).

2015 World Games: Day 4 — An Experience They’ll Never Forget

This is the fourth blog post (find others on our blog homepage!) in a series from Special Olympics Missouri Public Relations Manager Brandon Schatsiek who is in Los Angeles covering the 13 Missouri athletes competing for Special Olympics USA at the 2015 World Games.

Competing at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games and representing the red, white and blue is something that all 13 Missouri athletes (12 softball and one tennis) will never forget, but I think it’s the off-field/off-court activities that our guys are going to remember more than anything. Today the softball team was afforded on such opportunity — to attend a Los Angeles Dodgers game and be on the field during batting practice.

But before they could do the fun stuff, they had business to attend to — a match-up vs. Bharat (India).

DSC_0778 (2)This team is nothing if they aren’t consistent and they have consistently (from scrimmages vs. Arizona and Southern California earlier in the week and throughout the first three games against Australia, Canada and Mexico) been a slow-starting team. In divisioning, teams bat through their entire order in the first inning, so organizers can get a good look at everyone to make sure they end up in the right division against comparable competition.

So far, the guys have consistently been behind teams following the 1st inning because of fielding/throwing errors and untimely hitting. They were down 11-4 vs. Canada, 7-3 vs. Mexico and 7-4 vs. India again on Tuesday. Then they’re forced to try and claw their way back in it and it’s worked out pretty well against everyone but Canada so far. That trend continued Tuesday with India scoring 7 in the first inning and leading 7-4 at the end of the 1st.

The guys had great pitching and defense in the 2nd inning and forced India to go three up, three down. Then at the plate USA scored eight straight runs to begin their half of the inning and they were able to hold onto a huge 12-10 win.DSC_0773

Coaches mentioned that they’ve noticed their team starts out flat, but they’re kind of at a loss as to how to change it at this point — “it’s just who they are,” said coach Stan Smith with a smile. “We just need to fight through it.”

“I really do think their heads were elsewhere today, especially with them going to the Dodgers game following their game,” coach Dana Griesinger said. “It’s all they talked about this morning.”

Following divisioning play, they’ve now been placed in the 2nd division with Canada and Mexico. They will play Mexico at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and Canada at 10 a.m. Thursday.

We’ll get to their Dodger Stadium experience in a bit, but first, how did Bobby fare on Tuesday?

Bobby and his doubles partner Jeff Scott from California lost both matches vs. Costa Rica and Belgium. His mom said that she missed nearly all of the matches because they were stuck in traffic for two hours. Have you ever heard people talk about LA traffic? Yeah, it’s that bad.

She got the rundown from the coaches who said Bobby and Jeff also got off to a slow start on Tuesday and while they did a good job of finishing strong, it put them in a hole that was too hard for them to dig out of completely. Bobby and Jeff are set to begin their competition schedule today now that divisioning is completed. They play at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesday at the UCLA Tennis Center. Good luck Bobby and Jeff!

Immediately following the win vs. India, the softball guys hurried to the locker room to change and hop on the bus that was arranged for them. Because they had plenty of time, the bus took the long way and traveled all the way down Sunset Boulevard where guys could ooh and ahh at the multi-million dollar homes. A few freaked out when they saw some guy from the TV show Storage Wars driving an old car in front of us. I’ve personally never seen the show to tell you one way or another, but Tim Kunz was adamant it was him and was really excited.

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Mark McGwire talks to the guys

Mark McGwire talks to the guys

High fives with Joc Pederson

High fives with Joc Pederson

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly with Allen Cameron

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly with Allen Cameron

Group photo with Billy Butler

Group photo with Billy Butler

Group photo with Andre Ethier

Group photo with Andre Ethier

Once we arrived at the stadium, we took a few photos and then headed inside where we were met by Dodgers PR/Marketing staff and two people from a TV crew who mic’ed up Jason Parrish for the experience. He was a little hesitant at first, but we couldn’t have picked a better athlete and all-around person to be on camera representing USA and Missouri.

You know the guys are in awe of what they’re experiencing when the most talkative guys on the team who NEVER shut up are silent. As soon as we stepped on the field most of them just stood there, not saying a word, just soaking it all in. So many of them knew the players (from both teams) that were in front of them and could tell you their statistics for the year. Again, it’s just another way to show that sports as a whole means so much to them. Sure it’s nice to compete and win, but it’s more about that shared experience and they can relate to a lot of what professional athletes deal with just on a smaller scale.

Several players and coaches came over to greet the team and take photos with them including Joc Pederson, Andre Ethier, Don Mattingly and more. The two guys who got the largest cheers though were former Cardinals great Mark McGwire (hitting coach for the Dodgers) and former Royals player Billy Butler (now with the Oakland Athletics). They were SO excited when they saw them and kept yelling their names until they came over to say hi. No matter who it was that came over to see them, it wasn’t a quick photo and then they left, they were genuinely interested in how the softball games were going, asking who the hardest hitter on the team was (Jason Parrish), the fastest player on the team (Tyler Scott), etc. It was a ton of fun getting to see them just be like anyone else and forget about everything else that’s going on in their lives right now and just be able to talk athlete-to-athlete.

I was really hoping that Joc Pederson (one of the best young players in the game and probably leading candidate for National League Rooking of the Year) would come over because he could relate even more to the guys than most because his older brother has Down syndrome and competes in Special Olympics. You also might remember him from this touching moment during this year’s Home Run Derby. Of course, some of the guys already knew this and instead of “talking shop” and asking him about hitting or fielding and getting tips, they asked more questions about his brother. I think Pederson appreciated that the guys were genuinely interested him his story.

I know I’ll never forget that moment, not because it was cool for me to be down on the field and meet the players (which it totally was :-) ) but because the looks on all of their faces were priceless as they took the field and player after player came over to meet them.

The game itself was meh with the Dodgers losing 2-0 and only getting three hits, but our guys were treated like royalty and I know it’s an experience they’ll never forget and we’re all greatly appreciative of Justin Turner and the Dodgers staff making this happen.

This post is already more than 1,300 words, so I’ll end it here and just to let you know, Thursday’s post is going to be a little light because we’re taking the day off to do some touristy things, but we’ll still have information on how Bobby and the softball team fare on Wednesday.

As always, more photos are available on our Flickr album or our Facebook page and you can follow along during the day with live updates from the games by following our social media accounts (Facebook & Twitter).

Jeff Cook, World Games Final Leg: Days 13 & 14

Jeff Cook, a patrol supervisor with the O’Fallon Police Dept., was selected as Missouri’s representative for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg. Cook will be providing updates on his adventures in Los Angeles as part of the Final Leg.

Friday, July 24
US Bank BuildingJuly 24
Los Angeles City Hall
The Hall of Justice
Griffith Observatory
A couple of nice short runs this morning in downtown LA. We had impressive crowds and the energy in the city surrounding the Games continues to grow. We had several team members selected to go on the roof of the US Bank Building this morning with the torch. This is the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

We got a great view of the valley and the Hollywood sign. Bob Cormier did a great job at the Hall of Justice, speaking on behalf of his fellow superheroes!

Santa Monica Pier
(setting of Three’s Company)
We had our loudest run in and everyone gave it their all for this final run in Santa Monica. Nigel Davis did a great job sharing a personal story of violence in his life and how Special Olympics helped him build the courage be to stand up for and defend himself from bullies in Jamaica. A good final run.

We had one of our last meals together after our final run today. LAPD had a nice dinner set up at City Hall for us. Team 5 was blessed to have Allen Ronaldo Jones back and free from the hospital. Due to the wonderful world of technology we used FaceTime to call and get Claire Hawthorn on the phone for a good team picture.

All of the athletes had an amazing time dancing and proving how far each of them can come in a short time with support.

Saturday, July 25
July 25 - 84 TorchLA84
Breakfast this morning hosted by the LA84 commemorative Olympics library and historical venue. The grounds were very nice and the display of past Olympic torches was very cool. An eternal flame and 84 Olympic Torch was available for photographs.

ESPN – turn it on
We are headed to the Opening Ceremonies at the Coliseum right now. For my local support, I will be the 10th officer from the stage along the corridor, right side facing the stage.

I am a Guardian of the Flame!

Dressed and headed to the Coliseum for Opening Ceremony to kick the Games off and bring in our coveted torch and athletes.

The 124-member of the 2015 Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg will be finishing our journey and our mission shortly by delivering the Flame of Hope for the 7,000 athletes filling this stadium.

(And Rocco even showed up with Mom and Dad)

July 25 - Team 5Any journey has its trials, however, we did our job tonight and delivered the Flame of Hope with dignity, respect and honor for the athletes of these Special Olympics Games.

This has been revered at the largest sports and humanitarian event in Los Angeles since 1984. I represented my family, my department, Special Olympics Missouri and myself with great pride this evening.

LETR Final Leg – Thank you

Jeff Cook, World Games Final Leg: Days 11 & 12

Jeff Cook, a patrol supervisor with the O’Fallon Police Dept., was selected as Missouri’s representative for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg. Cook will be providing updates on his adventures in Los Angeles as part of the Final Leg.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
July 22 at ABCUp at 4:30 this morning and headed to ABC 7 – LA Studio.
We did several live shots and a few interviews were filmed for later.

Host City – Burbank
Team Zimbabwe
Team Botswana
FANtastic celebration to run into. The speeches were great by Josh and Azeem. The energy from the athletes was really needed this morning. It was an early day and this was the spark we needed.

El Cañada Flintridge
The weather has stayed a little cloudy today and there have been no complaints. We got our fill of sun running the beaches yesterday. This was a very nice community who proudly accepted the Flame of Hope.

July 22 - BurbankNigel and Bruce Felton shared their stories for the crowd. Nigel did a great job again, he rolled up his speech and spoke from the heart again. It was moving.

Beautiful town with a great downtown area. The city hosted a great event and is actually a host city for Team Singapore, Team Tanzania and Team Namibia.

Thursday, July 23
We wrapped up the day with our last two cities and my second speech, accompanied by Dale Smit. It was a humid run in to a great local crowd at both locations. Dale and I spread the word of awareness at Arcadia and Joshua and Russell carried the Torch in Glendale. It is exciting to see so many athletes at these events as we draw closer to the games.

The ride on horse training and therapy program hosted us this morning with a great welcome and light breakfast.

The long days, weather and schedule are slowing a few folks down. We are keeping our spirits and energy up when it’s time to run though. We have to treat each one like it was the first one to motivate the communities and do the job we are here for!

(You know it from Karate Kid)
This stop brought us to one of the coolest entertainment sessions yet. A gentleman has a band that he leads with four special needs guys as his vocal back ups. Great ceremony and turnout. The LETR Final Leg Team keeps knocking down those miles, getting city to city along the way. We’re in the home stretch and the Games are getting so close!

Van Nuys
They did us a solid by making this a shorter run in before serving us lunch. First ceremony where we were provided and instructed to take seats. It was in the shade and under a tent.

Many political officials had aides present and helped celebrate the Torch Run.

July 23Lakeview Terrace
This community had set up quite a vehicle and vendor display in a local park for us. The music was bumping and the cheers were loud from the athletes of Team Hellas (Greece.) Julie Tilbury and Nigel Davis did a great job.

I have become so amazingly proud of Nigel Davis the past two weeks. Nigel has gone from reading right off the script to taking the microphone with a stage presence of an entertainer. He speaks each time now from the heart and tells his story of struggle and success in his life. Nigel could have very easily been just another special needs person left inside at his families home and generally isolated from his community like many had been prior to Special Olympics and the funding that LETR helps provide.

Nigel is not just an athlete, he is also a father. He loves his daughter and her mother, who is also a special needs athlete in Kingston Jamaica. Nigel works at a soap factory that produces the soap for hotel resort guests. He runs or rollerblades/skates to work every day. He is an Olympic speed skater and figure skater. He runs and skates to work to train and he never stops training.

Nigel embodies one of the greatest, all-inclusive, examples of what Special Olympics can do in our world. He is a valuable and productive member of society and lives independently. Nigel, Dale, Joshua and Grazianno have reminded me of the importance of being a Guardian of the Flame.

Studio City
A good run in to a warm reception. Our hosts had great a great Mexican dance performance set up for us and the crowd. They topped it with ice cream and the Minions!

Route 1 / Root 1 had a pretty good day so far. We’ve had a couple setbacks, however, it’s amazing how just a few minutes of camaraderie in a park can really bring the Team spirit up.

Today at lunch, we were given a Frisbee from Panda Express. We had a little time to kill and someone brought up playing a little Frisbee. My stomach finally felt a little better so I figured why not. As soon as I got up, Grazianno hopped up and started heading off the bus too. He was eager to to get it in the grass and horse around and have some fun.
Grazianno has come out of his shell so much since the first day. We have been more protective of him and more aware on when he interacts. He does not speak English, however he understands a little. Claire Hawthorn took the first couple steps to work with him and I made sure that I followed that lead. We worked to to include, acknowledge, encourage and communicate with him when Stefano was and was not around.
It kept paying off each day. Grazianno started to initiate hugs, smile with great pride and actually danced out in the open in the middle of ceremonies. Today’s he actively played Frisbee with us all and was so happy. I was a witness to a great day of inclusion. A great day for Route 1.

July 23 - LAXLAX
We literally shut down the traffic coming through/past the iconic LAX airport sign. Five lanes of traffic for 20 minutes so we could line up everyone for a great shot. These adore the times when police officers like to block traffic, when its for their brothers and sisters and the athletes!

It was followed by a very nice outdoor dinner and DJ at the base of the flag pole and famous lighting structures. The colors have been changed to mimic the colors for these World Games.