World Games 2019 Update 6

Mike and Karen Garrison are parents to Colin, Missouri’s sole athlete competing at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

It’s been a wonderful day! One we’ll remember, cherish and celebrate the rest of our days.

Colin and Tom won the gold medal in doubles! Imagine that – best in the world in their division. It takes our breath away.

And it wasn’t an easy win. They played an excellent team from Gibraltar who went ahead 6-0 in the first 2 frames. That’s a big hole to dig out of. But Colin and Tom dug deep and stayed focused. They only allowed 2 more points the rest of the match. They had another 4 point frame which helped immensely. It finished with an 8-8 tie with the very last ball being within a fraction of an inch in Colin and Tom’s favor. The way the scoring works, Colin and Tom were the uncontested gold medal winners with no tie break needed. They beat the great team from Hungary by 1 point. It was a very close group of teams and every game was down to fractions of an inch. And they won the GOLD!!!!

We couldn’t be more proud. Colin earned a bronze, silver and gold in world competition! That’s pinch-yourself-amazing!!

We spent a good portion of the day waiting on medal ceremonies for all of our athletes. But it was worth celebrating every one of them.

Watching athletes Malta, the Isle of Man, Bangladesh, Suriname and Sudan beaming with their awards warms your heart and humbles you. Try to appreciate how much it took for all of these athletes, from countries large and tiny, rich and poor, to make it to this event, overcoming obstacles through their whole lives. It gives you great perspective about what matters.

Meet the Determined is a phrase we saw everywhere and it captures the spirit of the athletes and the experience. People of Determination is a phrase UAE uses for individuals with intellectual differences. And they are determined. They showed that every single day and we know it’s how they live their lives.

We’ll be headed to the airport tonight to start our journey home. We gave Colin a big hug and high five. We’ll see him on Saturday when his flight arrives, beaming and grinning from ear to ear just as he has all week, with a crick in his neck from wearing so much metal.

We’ll provide an additional update this weekend. Thanks for all of your love and support on this journey. It’s been amazing and it leaves us speechless and humbled.

Many thanks and Abu Dhabi signing out!

Love
Mike and Karen

Colin medal trioColin Tom Gold Medals

 

2019 World Games Update 5

Mike and Karen Garrison are parents to Colin, Missouri’s sole athlete competing at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

It’s been a great day of world-class, edge of your seat bocce. And we know what that looks and feels like first hand! It’s an exhilarating and draining experience in equal measures.

To cut to the chase, Colin and his partner, Tom, won all three of their matches in exciting and stomach twisting fashion. We couldn’t be more proud of how they kept their composure against some fearsome competition from Aruba, Singapore and particularly a very strong team from Hungary. Not every point or frame went their way but enough of them did to pull out the wins. In the last frame against Hungary they were measuring to within a fraction of an inch. We squeaked out with a win instead of a draw which matters in terms of point total.

Colin and Tom absolutely played the best bocce they’ve played since they’ve been here. In two matches, they scored 4 points in a frame which is the most points you can get and it doesn’t happen often. The guys encouraged each other throughout the day and played extremely well as a team. We’re pretty sure their awesome flag shorts contributed to their great play! (See attached)

And it’s not over yet. They have one more game in the morning to determine their final standings. Other teams in their bracket play 2 games tomorrow so we still have a ways to go before they see how they placed. We wouldn’t want to have a peaceful night’s sleep or anything….

Other fun activities today included eating lunch with the team and celebrating one of the player’s birthday, complete with cake.

This evening Special Olympics USA and the US Embassy hosted a lovely reception and dinner for US athletes and their families. It was at a beautiful hotel and many members of the Embassy staff and the US military were there. The Air Force band played, there were remarks from athletes, Special Olympics staff, the Charge d’affaire from the Embassy as well as the lead Colonel from military. All in all, an impressive event that put the spotlight on the athletes. Colin was even interviewed by the Embassy social media crew. He’s an international media star!

We have one more day here to watch the last of the competition and awards. Then we fly out at 2:00 a.m. Thursday morning to start our long trip back. Colin will stay through closing ceremonies on Thursday and fly out Friday. He’ll be back in KC on Saturday morning on United flight 3493 arriving from Newark at 11:01 a.m. if anyone wants to be in the welcoming crew. He’ll be exhausted but might still be running on adrenaline and walking on sunshine.

We’ll try to send a quick update before we take off with the final results. And we’ll try to get pictures of the closing ceremonies from the coaches we can share when we’re back home.

Thanks for all of your support. Your notes of encouragement have been the world to all of us. It feels like you’re sharing the journey with us. And it’s been one to last many lifetimes!

Colin and partner thumbs up

Colin mealtime

2019 World Games Update 4

Mike and Karen Garrison are parents to Colin, Missouri’s sole athlete competing at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

A big hello to all of Colin’s support team,

Today has been much quieter and less eventful than yesterday. Colin and the men didn’t compete today. Just the women.

We watched several of the women’s matches and some other sports. Very close competition among such diverse countries. We were intrigued to see a Bocce match between the Isle of Man and Timor Leste. Not two countries who probably compete against each other often.

We briefly saw Colin today. The guys went to the beach. We’re not sure what the body of water is. They just got their feet wet and walked the beach.

Tomorrow and Wednesday everyone competes in doubles. So we’ll be on the edge of our seats again!

Thanks for the many great messages of support. We’ve shared them all with Colin. He grins ear to ear to hear from everyone.

We’ll send an update on doubles tomorrow. Busy day of matches tomorrow and Wednesday. Go USA!

Take care and many thanks.

colin on beach

World Games 2019 Update 3

Mike and Karen Garrison are parents to Colin, Missouri’s sole athlete competing at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

This has been a day that’s hard to put into words – in a good way. But we’ll try.

Colin and the other USA men wrapped up singles play. And like every other day, it was full of nail biters. Every match seemed to come down to a gnat’s eyelash in measurements. Some went our way, some didn’t.

Colin played 1 match today against a very good young man from Costa Rica. They were really evenly matched. We were so proud of how well Colin maintained his composure under lots of pressure. His coach told him to take some deep breaths and stay focused. (Just like both of you did, Coach Larry and Coach Terri. You would have been proud.)

After a nail biting match, Colin came away with the win! We were so thrilled for him. He won 2 and lost 1 which put him in medal contention. We just got back from the awards ceremony and he won the silver! We are so proud he could win a medal in singles. It’s something he’s worked hard on for many years. To see him receive that medal on the world stage gave us chills. Pinching ourselves.

colin singles awards stand

Oh, and there were a couple of other big moments today. When we got to the match, the coach told us Senator Roy Blunt had come to the games and hoped to stop by to meet Colin since he’s the only athlete from Missouri. Well, he did show up with his wife Abby and son Charlie. They watched the whole match and couldn’t have been nicer or more interested in Colin and learning about bocce.

And to add a little more excitement to the match Tim Shriver, CEO of Special Olympics and Eunice Kennedy’s son, and his wife Linda came to watch the match with the Blunts. No pressure, Colin. Just play your game and don’t mind the important people watching! And that’s what he did. He stayed focused and won a great match. Proud doesn’t begin to describe how we felt.

colin dignitaries

After the match, they were excited to meet Colin and congratulate him and the other athletes. They were warm and kind and interested in Colin.

Oh and then it was time to join this group for lunch! Tim and Linda Shriver, Roy, Abby and Charlie Blunt plus their staff and representatives from the embassy, Colin, his coach and us had a lovely meal together. Not what we expected when we got up this morning! Like we said, we were pinching each other.

In the world of Special Olympics it really doesn’t get any more amazing than this. And every one of them took a genuine interest in Colin. We expressed our appreciation for them taking time with Colin and us. Tim said this is his favorite part of what he does- getting to spend time with the athletes. He even asked Colin how to do his trademark stretch/lean position for bocce.

colin stretch

And we learned Senator Blunt was one of the people who sponsored legislation for the Healthy Athletes’ program. This is a screening program for Special Olympics for many health issues like vision, hearing, dentistry etc. It’s been very valuable in helping athletes get tested and treated for health issues. One of the USA athletes was fitted for hearing aids and another is getting new glasses. It’s a great program inside a fantastic program.

Well, like we said it’s been a pretty amazing day! It’s hard to imagine what could top this!

Again we extend our thanks to all of you who’ve cheered on Colin and supported him over the years. Who would have imagined our curly-headed toddler with an unknown future would be in Abu Dhabi winning World Olympic medals and having lunch with senators and CEOs? As we often say, we’re just along for the ride. Colin is the star who inspires us. How blessed are we to have him and all these athletes in our lives. They set the example of how to live our lives – with open hearts, outstretched hands and open minds.

colin two medals

2019 World Games Update 2

Mike and Karen Garrison are parents to Colin, Missouri’s sole athlete competing at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

We’re wrapping up another busy day. We watched Colin and others on the bocce team compete in men’s singles. The level of competition is remarkable. So many of the athletes are able to place their ball precisely where it needs to be. Every roll we had our hearts in our throats.

Again Colin and his teammates had some very tough matches. Colin won one and lost one. Both were nail biters. We’re very proud at how Colin has done against some remarkable players. (Coach Larry. You’d be proud too and you’d be chewing your nails down like we are!). The other players had similar days. Tomorrow will wrap up singles and we’ll see how everyone does. We’re proud of how all of them are representing our country.

In between matches, we had time to watch some other events. We saw some great volleyball and quite a bit of basketball. The basketball team from Puerto Rico had an enthusiastic cheering section and the team played at a really high level. Great to watch!

While we were there, Tim Shriver and the young woman who is a unified ESPN broadcaster stopped by. You can tell how much parents and fans appreciate Tim and the work he does carrying on his mother’s legacy.

The team was done earlier today than previous days and were looking forward to some extra sleep. They’ve been running off of short night’s of sleep.

We have more competition to watch tomorrow and look forward to cheering on all of the great athletes. It’s inspiring to watch athletes overcoming the challenges they face as they rise above in competition. We saw 2 young men with cerebral palsy from Pakistan and Jamaica play remarkable bocce with beaming smiles. They’ve been given the opportunity to compete on the world stage because of a dream Eunice Shriver had and the countless people who’ve carried that dream for more than 50 years – including all of you who’ve supported Colin and so many others. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We’re so proud to be here representing all of you. We can hear you cheering from across the miles! Colin’s been reading the many great messages from you, grinning ear to ear!

Colin bocce

Colin and teammate

2019 World Games Update 1

Mike and Karen Garrison are parents to Colin, Missouri’s sole athlete competing at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

We made it after a long couple of days travel and want to give you an update on the early days.

Travel went smoothly and we made it to our hotel Wednesday morning around 2:00 a.m. Later that morning after some sleep we picked up our credentials at the family center.

One of the smartest things we did was book our lodging at a hotel in the massive complex where Colin is competing. We just walk through our lobby and into the ADNEC complex. Probably a dozen sports are competing there so we can walk from Bocce to basketball to powerlifting to judo to gymnastics to volleyball. We don’t have to rely on buses or shuttles. It’s so convenient.

Yesterday was all about opening ceremonies. They were at a scale that’s hard to grasp. The venue is a very large stadium that seats around 60,000. We know many of you watched or recorded the ceremony but we’re not sure what was broadcast. Before the main ceremony began, there were performances by the police band, a men’s choir with women performing dance moves, men walking around with Saluki dogs and royal falcons, a military flyover with 4 colors of vapor trails. Everything was at a huge scale with lots of cultural elements. So inspiring.

The parade of athletes gave us chills. 200 countries! The largest number ever to participate. We’ve seen athletes from more than 100 countries from Faroe Islands to Burkina Faso to Moldova to Botswana and beyond. It’s humbling to hear the languages and uniforms but to appreciate how many similarities there are. From the joy in faces, the determination and spirit, to the common bond of celebrating these amazing athletes and their accomplishments. We definitely are more alike than we are different.

And now to Colin. We finally saw him for the first time today. They’ve been very busy with practice and special events. The red carpet is rolled out for them everywhere they go. A highlight for Colin was last night when he met Mariano Rivera who was part of the US delegation. (Famous baseball pitcher for those who might not know the name).

When we were at the Bocce venue this morning, Mariano and his son came by. We were also greeted by staff from the US embassy, a Navy commander from the surgeon general’s office and Karen Pence, the second lady, who is representing the government. They sat and watched part of a game and visited. A nice moment for fans and athletes.

Colin competed in traditional team Bocce today. They had tough competition from Libya and Bahrain. They were shaking out some jitters. After the day of competition Colin’s team took home the bronze medal! We couldn’t be more proud to watch him receive that world medal. See a couple of pictures from the ceremony. One of the sheikhs presented his award. Pretty cool!! Not often do you get a bronze medal at a world games from a sheikh! We just hang around Colin. He’s the famous one!!

Bocce team bronze

Bocce team awards stand

We’ll send another update in a day or so. We’ll feeling your support and love! We’re making memories for a lifetime!

Thanks and Abu Dhabi out!

Mike and Karen

Brandon Schatsiek’s World Games Blog: Part 2

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. Read Part 1 of this blog series here.

Now that it’s been more than a month since I returned from Austria, I figured it was as good of a time as any to FINALLY write my second blog post about my experiences with Special Olympics USA at the 2017 World Winter Games. After all, I always say better so-late-that-everyone-forgot-and-no-one-really-cares-anymore-late than never, right?

I could use the excuse that I wanted to wait until it was all over to give me real perspective on the trip, but I’ll be honest and say it’s because I was tired and lazy.

Now that I’ve confessed to my crimes, let’s get to what happened the rest of that week in Austria and give some overall thoughts before I go find something better to do around the house.

I found a way to get over my little (not-so-little) Opening Ceremony photography snafu (see blog post No. 1) only because there was so much work to do the rest of the week that I really didn’t have time to dwell and feel sorry for myself.

With all of the video work that I have been doing for SOMO, I really wanted to do something similar for all of our SO USA athletes and coaches so their family and friends back home could feel like they were in Austria with them. Photos are great, but being able to actually see their athletes moving and competing and talking about their experiences through video brings a different perspective.

I knew they’d have to be super short videos (because I didn’t have a lot of free time to spend editing), but I made a commitment to try and put one together every night. They weren’t going to have a high production value or have a lot of fancy effects and transitions because I still had to edit the day’s photos and write a text recap every night, but it was at least something.

Despite the Games being in Austria, we had quite a bit of media coverage from ABC, ESPN and other outlets. While those pre-determined athletes did a great job on their media tours, there were SO many other athletes who had great stories, but no outlet to with which to share them. I figured these videos would give other athletes some face time as well.

I was using a new editing program, so the first few videos were pretty rough around the edges, but I had a lot of fun bringing something new and different to the team.

The middle of the week was my only opportunity to go to Schladming where they were having the outdoor competitions (snowshoeing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing). It wasn’t just a short road trip, either; it took more than two hours each way. Lucky for us, we had a couple of dedicated drivers that made the trip a lot more bearable. They even had WiFi so I could try and get work done on the way; I napped instead, BUT I could have worked and that was cool.

096A3318096A3318The drive between Graz and Schladming might have been my favorite part of the whole experience. Tunnel after tunnel, village after village, mountain after gloriously majestic mountain made the time fly by.

Unfortunately for all the athletes competing that week, the weather didn’t cooperate. It was either raining or it was far too warm, both of which left the snow (what little there was to begin with) more like the consistency of a Squishee at the Kwik-E-Mart.

Yes, the conditions were the same for all athletes, so the playing field was at least level in that sense, but I just felt so bad for all the athletes who had trained and competed for years to get to the world stage and have to deal with incredibly subpar competition conditions.

I was able to arrive just in time to catch one of Andrew Baswell’s runs down the mountain, which was exciting, but it didn’t end as well as we would have hoped – disqualification. I saw him later that night and he was really down on himself. I hadn’t known Baswell that long, but I felt like the three of us from SOMO (Andy Martinez included) bonded between Training Camp in December and our flights together.

A couple of us were able to sit Baswell down and explain that this truly is a once-in-a-lifetime moment for him to be competing on this stage and that if he gave up right then and there – with one more event to go – he’d regret it forever. I told him I was proud of him for even getting this far and for trying his hardest despite the awful conditions. I walked away not really knowing if the message was well-received or not.

I planned on watching Martinez compete at the snowshoeing venue, but unfortunately they moved up his competition by 90 minutes and I was over getting video at cross-country skiing at the time. I grabbed a couple of video interviews and we headed back to the hotel in Schladming.

The only real disappointment I had in this whole experience was not being able to spend more time in Schladming. The delegation’s hotel was right in the middle of everything the little skiing village had set up for the World Games. If you closed your eyes and tried to imagine the quintessential Austrian village nestled in the Alps, this fit the bill perfectly.

Seeing as this would be the only time the whole communications team was all together, Amie took us out to an incredibly fancy restaurant right down the alley from our hotel. We enjoyed a very nice dinner with European beverages (J) and went back to the hotel to finish editing photos, videos and the newsletter.

Before I left on this trip, I knew I had two main tasks from SOMO’s perspective: 1. Represent our organization well 2. Don’t come home without “proof” you were there.

For those of you who have been to our headquarters office in Jefferson City, you have probably seen what graces the walls of our hallway back to the copy room – “proof” of past SOMO volunteers at World Games. Seeing as the Graz venues were downtown, it was going to be incredibly difficult to procure something to take home. I knew it had to be the night that I spent in Schladming.

Without trying to implicate myself in any illegal goings-on, you’ll have to come to the office to see if I was successful in my not-so-secret mission or not.

The next morning I was set to head back to Graz, but I knew Baswell was going to compete in another event, so I headed back to the mountain to try and find him. While he fell on this run too, he wasted no time in getting up, putting his skiis back on and finishing strong.

096A3591096A3591While I ran down the mountain from the media section to try and catch him before he headed back up for his second run, I was worried he was going to be upset that he fell again. I tapped him on the shoulder and he whipped around with a big smile on his face and gave me a hug.

“Did you see that I fell, but I got right back up?” he asked.

He was in much better spirits that morning. That gave me the little extra push to get through the rest of the week. I hated seeing how upset he was the night before. He could have easily quit and no one would have blamed him with the way his week had been going to that point.

But he said, “No, I’ve got this,” and stuck it out. Both Baswell and Martinez, even though they didn’t come home with as much hardware as they probably wanted, represented their hometowns, their state, their Special Olympics program, their families and themselves incredibly well and I couldn’t have been more proud of each of them.

The rest of the week was a lot of the same as before — long days and nights and early wake-up calls. They all kind of run together anymore and while I have plenty left to write, including:

  • How both of our floor hockey teams (Unified New York and regulation Southern California) overcame adversity and REALLY tough competition to win bronze medals,
  • Speed skater Cornell Gray DOMINATING the competition on his way to two gold medals and numerous personal records,
  • Making friends with Sebastian and Andreas from SO Germany on our 45-minute daily commutes to the competition venues in Graz,
  • Trying broker trade deals with volunteers for their volunteer garb in exchange for SO USA items,
  • Running around Closing Ceremony trying to do the same as above, but for sweet Special Olympics swag (hoodie from SO Austria, sweater from SO Switzerland, beanie from SO Norway),
  • Somehow (I’m not admitting to anything) potentially/maybe/possibly securing another piece of “proof” at Closing Ceremony as people were pouring out of the stadium and armed guards (not kidding) were walking the streets,
  • Running into Dikembe Mutombo at the Frankfurt airport during a flight delay, having the younger athletes on the team ask me “Who’s that?” and me subsequently face-palming because they made me feel old,
  • And last but certainly least, somehow barely making our connecting flight out of JFK to O’Hare even though boarding had ended minutes prior and the gate was technically closed.

Needless to say, I had a great time from beginning to end. It’s a TON of work getting these athletes ready to compete at this level and everyone needs to understand that these athletes truly are the best in the world at their sports.

I’m incredibly honored to have played even the smallest of roles in telling their stories and I’m grateful to them for letting me do so.

To everyone who helped make this possible for me, from athlete Allison D’Agostino for writing one of my recommendation letters to my bosses and co-workers at Special Olympics Missouri for pushing for me to go and covering for me while I was gone and to my wife, Sarah, for being okay that I leave her for two weeks and spend countless nights at home working on SO USA items, thanks to each and every one of you.

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