Josh Buchheit is a softball coach for Team Missouri.
One year ago, the journey to Seattle for the 2018 Special Olympic USA games seemed a long way away. Looking back now, a year ago feels like yesterday. The journey for Team Missouri began with selection camp in June of 2017. During selection camp, rough drafts of teams begin to take shape. In the following weeks athletes, unified partners, and coaches are informed on whether they made the cut to be part of the 2018 Special Olympics Missouri team at the USA games. During the Special Olympic USA Games, Team Missouri represented the Show Me State by competing to the best of their ability, showing great enthusiasm and sportsmanship, while being a model of acceptance and inclusion.
The city of Seattle welcomed Special Olympics with open arms and preached messages of inclusion and acceptance throughout the week. During opening and closing ceremonies, banners spanning the width of the football field were pulled across the stadium; each of the banners had a theme word for the week: strength, acceptance, pride, and empowerment. Athletes from each delegation demonstrated all four of these characteristics consistently, especially MO Magic. It wasn’t until after the games were over that I’ve been able to really reflect on how each of those four words were incorporated in the USA games.
When I think about strength, I think of mental and physical strength these athletes had to have to make it through a year of training and a long week of competing. Their strength training began the week of selection camp and didn’t end until closing ceremonies. Team Missouri was able to reap the benefits of following their yearlong strength and conditioning programs. Team Missouri’s strength, both mental and physical, were on display the entire week during their respective competitions. Mental strength helped get them from selection camp through practices and any setbacks they suffered throughout the year. Being awake and doing activities from 4:30am until 10:00 or 11:00 at night daily took a tremendous amount of strength by athletes, coaches, and partners. Come-from-behind victories and long games also take strength. Physical strength was on display watching the power-lifters dead-lift hundreds of pounds with ease. Physical strength was also displayed each day throughout the week when we walked miles and miles each day to different sporting venues, whether it be to compete or cheer on another Missouri team.
Throughout the week, teams would travel to other venues to cheer on other sports. For example, if softball was done competing in the morning and basketball played in the afternoon softball would go cheer on the basketball team. When your team is battling back and forth with another state and you see fellow Missourians walking into the venue it truly empowers those on the field. Missouri took care of one another the entire week. When your buddies, teammates, and family members from Missouri start the Missouri cheer it gives the team competing a boost of energy and confidence; it empowers them. Missouri not only empowered their own teammates, they empowered the athletes of opposing teams. During a lopsided softball game against Washington, Team Missouri was well ahead of Team Washington early in the game. At the time, I was coaching third base when I hear our very own athletes in the dugout cheering on the opposing pitcher who was noticeably frustrated. It’s important to note that our Missouri athletes did this without being prompted to do so. If that was not enough they began trying to hit the ball to the opposing fielders to generate outs, so Washington could bat again.
Missouri showed pride in the way they won, and even lost. From showing good sportsmanship to keeping their heads held high after a tough loss, Missouri took pride in where they are from and the amount of work it took to get to this point. Pride is something that Missouri takes seriously, and it showed during the 2018 USA games. The games were not all about the medals or even competing. Missouri demonstrated pride in the way they carried themselves, how they appeared to others, and the impressions they left on other delegations. It was evident as a delegation we were proud to be part of Team Missouri. The yearlong adventure prior to the USA games the athletes are working to get in better shape, to raise thousands of dollars, to work on honing their skills to give them the best chance at competing on the national level. It’s easy to see why Team Missouri takes so much pride in where they come from.
Although Missouri was well represented in Seattle, in the end it’s more about Special Olympics as a whole. It’s about showing the world that although these athletes are unique they are still people and have the same abilities as everyone else does. The big picture is not only accepting each other for our differences but embracing them. The city of Seattle and the thousands upon thousands of volunteers from all over the US provided a great start to the inclusion revolution. As community members it’s our jobs to be the change. We don’t have to be on a national stage to show acceptance, it starts with our local area. In closing, remember the themes of the 2018 Special Olympics USA games, ‘choose to include’ and ‘rise with us.’