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.
The 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.
While 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.