Brandon Schatsiek’s World Games Blog: Part 1

Brandon Schatsiek is SOMO’s Multimedia & Athlete Leadership Manager. He is serving on Special Olympics USA‘s communications team at the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria. 

I was able to attend the World Summer Games in 2015 in Los Angeles as a working-vacation following SO Missouri’s softball team and tennis athlete around while visiting friends in Southern California. I had a little taste of that World Games experience and wanted more.

I was lucky enough to be selected to serve as a communications assistant for Special Olympics USA at the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria.

The first leg of our trip took us to Washington, D.C. where we met up as a team for the first time since training camp in December in Vermont. We were treated to a nice dinner and evening program that included traditional Bavarian folk music to get us in the spirit of what we’d experience while in Austria. Check out my video.

We left the next afternoon on what was my first international flight. We left late enough that we flew most of the night and while I expected to pop a few Dramamine and zonk out for the whole trip, I found myself wide awake for most of it. I don’t know if it was the nerves or what, but I hate-watched a couple of C-list movies and we made it to Vienna at 8:30 a.m., which equated to 3:30 a.m. in D.C. We boarded the bus for Graz and arrived at out Host Town around 11 a.m.

The next day we were treated to tours of a local Riegersburg Castle and Zotter Chocolate Factory. For a recap of everything the teams did that day, check out the video I put together on their one full fun day away from practice and competition.

Even as I sit here and type this out on Sunday morning, I can’t really remember a lot of what’s already happened as the days are running together already and competition has only barely begun.

floor hockeyI am housed in Graz, which is where the floor hockey, figure skating and speed skating competitions are being held. As much as it pains me to be away from our two Missouri athletes (Andy Martinez in snowshoeing and Andrew Baswell in alpine skiing), I’m relishing the opportunity to see some of the best regulation and Unified floor hockey teams in the world because I’m a Unified Partner on the Jackson County Parks and Rec Unified team. Both our regulation team from Southern California and our Unified team from New York are really, really good and they’ve already established themselves as two of the top teams at World Winter Games.

During any World Games — and on some level at the USA Games – part of the fun where you get the “good feelings” are seeing people of so many different backgrounds together, either during competition or just around Olympic Town and at the venues. My first moment at these World Games happened early during speed skating practice when you saw the United States sharing the ice with Russia, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Nippon (Japan) and more.speed skating

That day we shared a bus back to the hotel with the German national team and I was lucky enough to chat with Sebastian most of the way. He told me all about his past World Games experience (this is his fourth), his cycling trip across America (I too love riding my bike) and how good his floorball team is (VERY good, apparently, haha).

Saturday brought the Opening Ceremony in Schladming, which was a 2 ½ hour bus ride away from Graz. The countryside between Graz and Schladming is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen mountains before, sure, but the way these small villages and houses butt up against the base of the mountains creates the most beautiful backdrop I’ve ever seen.

opening ceremony raincoatsThe weather forecast called for rain and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I knew what being out on the red carpet during Opening Ceremony was like because I took photos from the media section in Los Angeles in 2015, but being able to walk in with the delegation was something I’ll never forget.

Even just sitting in the parking deck across the street waiting for the ceremony to begin, it was hard not to get goosebumps as Sweden, Switzerland and the United States went back and forth chanting to see who could be the loudest, most passionate and most patriotic delegation. There was a short period of time where a couple of athletes stepped forward and I thought we were going to have a “Step Up: Special Olympics-style dance competition” but it didn’t come to fruition. Needless to say, I was rather disappointed, haha.

Missouri 4 Opening CeremonyI met up with Andy and Andrew at that time and traded as many pins as possible with countries staged around us before we had to head toward the entrance into the stadium. Seeing not only the athletes but the Unified Partners from the New York floor hockey team get geeked out for something of this magnitude was my favorite part of the evening. If you aren’t following the backstory of that team, you need to ASAP. The Unified Partners and athletes from that team couldn’t be more different (race, economically, socially, etc.) and it finally felt like the UPs changed from thinking they were giving this experience to the athletes to experiencing it WITH them.

Everything happened so fast that it felt like we were livestock being moved from one holding pen to another until we were finally set free to walk down the red carpet. I took one side of the group for photos, while Aaron Mills (communications director of our team) took the other and it quickly turned into me just standing in the middle of the group walking backwards with my right index finger firmly planted on the button, clicking at rapid fire. Mandi told me the day before to be sure and take a moment to just look around the stadium and soak it in before it was over. I remembered this just in time before the parade was finished (they said it was the shortest distance in World Games history). While the rain was something we all worried about most of the day, it actually made for a great atmosphere and added another element to the experience.

Unfortunately, I messed up pretty badly during Opening Ceremony and didn’t account for exactly how bright it was during the Parade of Athletes, so every single one of my photos during the parade was washed out (too bright). I was so focused on getting as many photos of as many athletes as possible during the parade that I didn’t take an extra two seconds to look at the screen and make sure I had the right settings. I whisper-yelled a few curse words and sulked for the first 20-30 minutes of the actual entertainment, not because I missed out on great photos for me, but because now those athletes won’t have photos of their experience.

096A2858When I make mistakes, I have the tendency to dwell on them longer than I probably should. I’ve been trying to be better about this, but it’s something I’m working on. After Opening Ceremony, we boarded the bus for our long trip home and I got to work on this blog and editing some of my other photos from the day. I think I found a way to salvage maybe a half dozen of the parade photos in a way that makes them look a little more artsy than usual, but it’s better than nothing. Most people will probably think that was the effect I was going for anyway, so it could work out okay after all, haha.

Our skaters are taking to the ice now, so I have to get going, but I’ll try to check in at least one more time during the week. Danke schön!

Healthy Athletes Training: Pierce Rash

Pierce Rash, 35 has participated in Special Olympics since he was 8 years old and living in Las Vegas, Nev. He and his family moved to Missouri in 2004. In 2013, Pierce was selected to Team Missouri to compete in bocce for the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey.
He trained very hard and was thrilled to attend all of the events surrounding the USA Games! Pierce came home with four awards for his efforts and set his sights on the next games in 2018! In 2016, Pierce decided on his own that he needed to lose weight and get in better shape in order to try out in 2017 for Team Missouri. Shortly thereafter, Pierce implemented his workout plan.

Since a very young age, Pierce has worked out with Richard Simmons’s “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” He added a treadmill for the 2014 USA Games training because he knew he may need to walk up to five miles per day while in New Jersey. 13458771_1147115122018457_2255665629168221542_o

To train for the 2018 USA Games in Seattle, Pierce has become even more serious about his training and told his mother that he wanted to focus on losing weight. The plan is to eat less, eat something healthy every three hours, drink more water, add an elliptical regimen and perform two workouts per day.

Pierce looked over every DVD at Wal-Mart for work outs and made the decision to go with Billy Banks’s “Taebo.” Pierce’s parents tried to discourage that DVD since it seemed very high energy and fast paced, but Pierce was insistent he wanted to try. His parents have been amazed with his dedication and performance!

Over the months, Pierce saw the pounds dropping and his body shrinking! He became obsessed with his workouts and sees this as fun and something he looks forward to every day. Pierce’s parents became amazed with his commitment to getting into shape and made sure he knew it was okay to “treat” himself with something he gave up (cookies, French fries, etc.) every once and a while.

As of his last check up in January, Pierce has lost 51 pounds without the help of any pills or powders and has gone from a size 40 pant to a 32. Pierce does one workout in the morning and then again around 3 p.m., which helps keep his metabolism burning off the pounds.
Pierce has been working hard on his form in bowling which is the sport that he wants to try out for at the Special Olympics Missouri Selection Camp. He is looking forward to the State Indoor Games in Ft. Leonard Wood where he is hoping for a gold medal which will allow him to try out for the team.

Healthy Athletes Training: Tanner Hrenchir

Tanner Hrenchir, of Special Olympics Missouri’s North Area, started participating in the sport of powerlifting two years ago and it has since became his favorite sport.  We believe he truly adores the individual aspect of it and the fact that each week he can see how much stronger he has become from the last week.

After state last year, Tanner created a new goal for himself– to work as hard as he ever has to hopefully be selected to participate on the next nationals squad for Team Missouri in the sport of powerlifting!

For more than 22 weeks now, Tanner has been meeting with Olympian, Pete Kelly, at 8 a.m. every Saturday  morning to train in his garage.  Pete gave him nightly exercises/lifts to perform and he has kept those going for 22 weeks as well! He has sheets to prove it where he has checked each one off.  My mother says he often spends another couple of hours per night on his exercises and lifts alone.  After Saturday powerlifting practices with Pete, Tanner then attends Special Olympics Missouri bowling practice as well.  He has even started in on cardio, which isn’t a strong suit for him.  It’s fascinating to see how much determination this guy has–he inspires me to get out there and get fit, to be kind and to love life.tanner

One of the greatest parts is Tanner is starting to see his own body change.  Every few weeks we have been upping the weight of his dumb bells at home and he sees his muscles getting stronger and stronger.  He is so proud of himself as he should be!  He is working so hard towards this goal, however he knows that if he does not get selected, there is always next time!

Tanner inspires me every day.  He has held a job since he was 18 (he is now 34) and has participated in SOMO for almost 25 years.  Of the 25 years, I can say I have never seen him more determined to meet a goal.  Through SOMO Tanner has found a HOME; our entire family has found a HOME.  SOMO is what our family does!  It’s our life and we wouldn’t be the same without it.  Thank you SOMO for giving Tanner opportunities such as this to strive for.  What an amazing life he has.

 

Written by: Katie Lyle, Tanner’s sister and coach

Healthy Athletes in DC, by Allen Tobin

The following is written by Special Olympics Missouri athlete Allen Tobin, who recently traveled to Washington D.C. with SOMO staff member Carol Griffin to attend a Healthy Athletes leadership conference. Healthy Athletes provides athletes with free health screenings in six different disciplines: Fit Feet, Special Smiles, Fun Fitness, Healthy Hearing, Health Promotion and Opening Eyes.

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I had the honor and the privilege to get to go with Carol Griffin, the Healthy Athlete Coordinator, to Washington D.C. for a conference in training to be an Athlete Leader in the Healthy Athlete program. I met Carol at the airport on December 6th to fly out to Waimg_1629shington D.C. We went to our hotel to check in for the conference and training. We got to see see and talk to Heather Hammer, the Healthy Athlete Director for Special Olympics International & Kristen Srour, who works for Healthy Athletes Special Olympics International.

On Monday evening the 12 athlete leaders and mentors had training to be a Healthy Athlete Leader. After our meeting and training we got taken out to dinner at a Greek restaurant which was a lot of fun. I got to try some new foods that I’ve never had, after dinner we came back to the motel and relax and get to know each other.img_1619

On Tuesday the conference started. We had breakfast and got to talk to the other people that came in for the conference. The meeting started at 9 and then we had a breakout session at 9:30 to 10:45. Four athletes got to do the breakout session. We gave speeches and answered questions. Then we took a break and had sessions and meetings all day. We had a healthy lunch with a few snacks and fruits and yogurt. We had different meetings all week with topics from ranging from new physical fitness programs, healthy diets and different things like that.

I enjoyed meeting other athletes from all over the country and even Canada and the District of Columbia. On Thursday night we had free time for dinner and got to go on a on a night tour of the different monuments in Washington Dimg_1936C. I had a lot of fun going to see things like the Capital, White House, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, and Martin Luther King Monument. On Friday we had our final day of conferences, meetings and training sessions. We flew back back home on December the 9th.

I learned many important things at the conference. Statistics show that compared to people without Intellectual Disabilities (ID), people with ID:
*died 16 years earlier on average
*are at more unhealthy weight
*are more overweigimg_1704ht or obese
*tend to have a higher blood pressure

It is important to learn how to be a Healthy Athlete because the healthier I am the more energy I have and the better I can be at my sports.

-Allen Tobin
Special Olympics Missouri Athlete
Healthy Athlete Leader

How I Started Special Olympics: by Brittany Selken

The following story was written by SOMO athlete Brittany Selken as part of her practicum for the social media class in our Athlete Leadership Program University. Enjoy!

 

Picture the year 2000. I had just started my Special Olympics career with my mother school Trails West State School. The main reason why I started Special Olympics in the first place was to make friends because at a young age I did not have that many friends because I was shy person and with my learning disability and the school kids making fun of me. At the age of ten you just want to make friends and be accepted in school and that was not happing for me at that time. My mother thought it would be a great idea to join Special Olympics because it would be a great place for me to make a lot of friends that I can have in my life for a long time and they would treat me like a normal person.

When I joined Coach Linda May’s team I was welcomed with open arms and I started making friends right away. I thought it was so neat that these athletes were just like me and I can be normal and not be shy when I’m around my teammates. The first sport I had ever competed in was skiing and I had never done skiing in my life so at first I was so scared that I was going to fail in this sport and that I was not good in enough to do this type of thing. I did not want to let my mom/teammates/coaches down when I was competed in this sport. I was so happy when I went to our area competition in Snow Creek, Weston Missouri. I had gotten my first gold medal and I was so excited that my mom and teammates were there to watch me get my first medal. The other sports I did with Linda May was skiing, floor hockey, basketball, track and field and soccer.

 

Then in fall/summer in the year 2004 I went to another team called Jackson County Parks and Rec whose head coach was Coach Bea Webb. Bea Webb went to my mom at this time and asked if she could have me part of her team to do more sports and help me grow up into a young lady. My mom said yes I could join her team. I asked Linda May if she was okay with that and she was fine with it because she knew that Bea Webb could take me to another level at the time. The first sport that I had competed in was track & field. To this day I’m still on Bea Webb’s team going from the time I was 12-years-old from being a bad little kid to become a young lady. Bea Webb has taught me to become a better athlete with all the sports that I had competed in with her over the 15 years since I had been a part of this team.

I had gotten to go to National Games three time because of Bea Webb who nominated me to be a part of Team Missouri. The first national games that I went to was in 2006 in Ames, Iowa for track & field.

Then I was blessed to be a part of the next two National Games in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2011. I received second place with my partner Tina Jones and in single I got first place. Then I got picked again in 2015 for National Games in Los Angeles again for tennis but with my unified partner Ashley Wurst. I got second in single competition and Ashley and I took home the gold medal in Unified tennis.

Officer Amanda Geno Named 2016 John Michael Letz Unsung Hero

We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know. We don’t know them because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are usually in the background working to do more.

About this year’s recipient:

 Involved in the Torch Run for 7 years
 Is involved in fundraising in both local and statewide fundraising events
 Is the agency coordinator for their department, which has raised over $632,000 in the last 7 years
 Volunteers to hand out medals at both local and state events
 Volunteers at SOMO state events as an event manager
 Organizes a Torch Run in conjunction with local school field day events
 Serves on the local Polar Plunge committee and has been instrumental in growing this event to where it is today
 Serves as a Unified Partner and athlete mentor

In the words of the nominator: “This recipient always has a positive outlook and is always setting goals for not only the law enforcement officers but the athletes as well. This recipient is one of the most positive officers I have had the pleasure of working with.”

The 2016 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to Officer Amanda Geno of Lee’s Summit Police Department.

Greater KC Public Safety Credit Union Plunges Into Fundraising

cu-in-the-water1The Greater KC Public Safety Credit Union is gearing up for its ninth year of plunging into the icy waters of Longview Lake for a good cause. Dubbed “CU in the Water,” the Credit Union’s team of brave plungers typically includes 20-30 credit union employees, friends and family. A few members of the team opt to take it to the extreme and Super Plunge (24 plunges over a 24 hour period). The team raises funds throughout the year by selling ice cream and candy bars in the Credit Union’s branches, as well as putting on garage sales and other fundraising events. This year, credit union CEO, Aaron Goff, hosted a “backyard concert” featuring Kansas City native rocker Bob Walkenhorst to raise money for the Plunge. “The Credit Union staff loves being a force for good in our community, and SOMO has been our primary charity partner for many years,” said Aaron. “We love Special Olympics, and we love the Plunge!” Aaron has racked up 80 plunges over the past eight years.

One of the team’s leading fundraisers, Laurie Clark, also stays up the night before the plunge to prepare and deliver a hot breakfast to all of the Super Plungers. When asked why she does it each and every year, Laurie’s response was “At first, I did it for fun. Now I do it for love.”

cu-in-the-water4Regular Super Plungers, Lindsey Moore and Becca Francis, both cite personal reasons for their support of SOMO. Lindsey said that, “meeting Special Olympics families and athletes has enriched my life and makes jumping into freezing water so worth it!” Becca echoed those words, adding, “I have [discovered] how important it is for everyone to feel accepted, not just in sports, but in life.”

Over the years, the CU in the Water team has managed to raise nearly $120,000 for Special Olympics and plans to keep participating for many years to come!

Registration is open for the 2017 Polar Plunge season. Find your location at www.somo.org/plunge!

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