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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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!

Read Part 2 here.

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.

DSC_0107 (Copy) (Copy)

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 7 & 8

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.

Day 7 – Several Posts

OXNARD
Day 7 Jeff and Oxnard athletesThe days have been exciting and tiring at the same time. The excitement and energy of the community recharges our batteries and motivates us for the next run. The members of Route 1 (Root 1!) continue to impress.

Our first stop today was Oxnard. I was going to try and recap yesterday, however the last hour in Oxnard can not wait to be mentioned. Groups or athletes were waiting at each corner we turned at to help us reach the ceremony. We arrived to a Police Commander who emceed the event and did a great job. This was the most inspiring stop to date.

Our Team 5 athlete, Dale Smit, made me so proud today. His nervousness was apparent and when he got up, he struggled in a few spots. As I stood and watched Dale this morning I witnessed what real courage looks like. He conquered each word that slowed him down and did not let it get the best of him. I was as proud of Dale Smit this morning as I have been of my own son at times in his life. My pride began to create a bit of a glare in my vision and an ache in my chest. I hesitate to share this knowing many of my teammates may see this. Emotion got the best of me this morning and I wasn’t sure why at first? (One person spotted me but I know she wont tell.). G. lol As I looked around, the realization of where I was and the opportunity that was given to me just sunk in. The excitement and joy in that community, for our arrival, was amazing. Eric Smith and Dale Smit killed it on a news interview today as well. It was so good a dance party literally broke out at nine in the morning. Thank you Oxnard, you have set the bar!

CALABASAS
Today continues to be a good day in Cali! The weather was almost as beautiful as the town. They are hosting the athletes of Team Britain and the town was decorated nicely. We ran into a well attended ceremony where Jen Riley and our athlete Joshua spoke to the crowd. They both did a fantastic job representing our family.

On a side note, if you’re ever in California, this is the car you want to escort you around (CHP Dodge Viper.)

Day 7 WG cheerleaderTHOUSAND OAKS
We shut down Thousand Oaks Blvd for almost 2.5 miles and ran into a spectacular crowd. Patrons and shop owners were coming out of the stores and cheering us along. Those in vehicles honked, in support not in frustration, waving and video taping as well.
My teammate and roomie, Otis Stevens, gave his speech today alongside Nigel Davis. Nigel continues to shine with each speech. Thousand Oaks brought out the “Sparkles” unified Cheer Team. Amazing young ladies…

SIMI VALLEY 99 degree
First off, nice views and great hills, too look at! A nice mile-long climb up to a shopping center that rounded out the day with a huge crowd. I have been most impressed with the quality of the ceremonies and community turnout today. The Simi Valley PD organized some great entertainment after effectively spreading the message and the mission of the Final Leg.

Day 7 Jeff and athleteWe headed out after meeting a few locals and stopped by the local Toyota dealership after another hilly Simi Valley run.

There’s barely time to post between stops, fortunately they arranged for wifi on the bus. Posting in the evening is a challenge because it cuts into what we have realized is most valuable sleep time.

We are having dinner at the Ronald Reagan library this evening!

Day 8
SAN YISIDRO/TIJUANA
Day 8 With  cheerleaderWe were quite a wake up call for the city of San Yisidro / San Diego County. We shouted cadence for about two miles through the street to spread awareness and make our presence known. The local supporters did not hesitate to put on a fantastic show of support. The Xolo Girls and the mascot for the Caliente futbol team from Tijuana were there along with a great mariachi band. As with most stops these days when music kicks off, the dancing follows

CORONADO
As the military chant starts … Didn’t come to Coronado for the sun, we’re running for the athletes in the Torch Run!

What a beautiful city, looks just like the movies. We ran along the bay front and then through town to a community orchestra waiting for us. US Olympic Champion Layne Beaubien emceed the event. Today has started out as good as yesterday, just a little cooler with rain sprinkles. We finished with a quick trip to Hotel Del Coronado and finally coffee! The community and local law enforcement did another job showing great respect for the Flame of Hope.

LA JOLLA/OCEANSIDE
Mother Nature decided to poke fun of the other Routes. There were in places in the desert and we were at Seal Beach in LaJolla with the ocean. Change of plans, lighting, thunderstorms and water by the buckets. The storms shut down both cities nearly with flood warnings and storm drains filling at capacity.

Our trip was cut short, however, San Diego PD adapted like true Torch Run Guardians and we brought the ceremony on the bus. Their message was shared in an abbreviated fashion, however, we appreciated all their efforts. I’m sorry to San Diego their efforts and preparation was minimized to being on the bus, I know they had great stuff in store for us. We’ve been granted some rehab time which will be appreciated.

SAN CLEMENTE – BEACH AND PIER
What an awesome morning running along the ocean in San Clemente. There was a weekend festival that still had a lot of people out already. The view was Fantastic and the ceremony was impressive.

A couple of days ago in Visalia we witnessed our athlete Graccianno Corozza from Italia smile and give Tammy and kiss on the cheek at the end of her speech. This was the most emotion we had seen from Gracciano the entire trip.

Day 8 Jeff and NigelToday was Nigel’s turn to pierce my heart. He came up today and for the first time he did not read his speech, he went off the cuff and did it from memory. Actually he did it from his heart, his great big smiling heart. Nigel spoke of how he was a little concerned about being on the bus with all of the officers and new people however now he loves his new family.
The pride in my chest for Nigel swelled and I had to tell him. I went to Nigel afterwards and gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of him and he squeezed me back tightly. Nigel then became emotional and started crying in my arms out of joy, acceptance and pride in himself. Life does not provide many moments like this however Special Olympics and Torch Run family is like no other.

DANA POINT – DOHENEY STATE BEACH
The beauty of this beach was only shadowed by the inspiring Torch Runners that took it over. Jacqui Robertson and Graziano gave outstanding speeches, relaying the mission and personal experiences with LETR. We had a great lunch at the beach and even go to kick our shoes off and play in the sand a little.

As for Graziano “Buon lavoro il mio amico”. Good job my friend.

MISSION VIEJO
Day 8 Jeff  running with the torchAnother California city set the stage for a wonderful welcome. We started our run at the Finish Line of the 1984 Olympic Games Cycling event that finished in Mission Viejo. It was a very nice setting in a beautiful community. Olympic Champion Bob Goodell, a gold medalist swimmer in 1984, was also on hand.

We ran in to a Pipe and Drum band playing with a large community turnout. Bob Cormier gave his speech, followed and outdone, by Team 5’s Dale Smit. Dale followed suit with his teammates stepped up in his public speaking. Dale did an amazing job with his eye contact and voice strength today. He used his script, however, he looked up and spoke in his normal speaking voice more than his slightly nervous reading voice.

I wish that his mom and dad could have been here to see him and his progress the past 8 days. Today showed the power of support, confidence and courage for Dale. FANtastic!

Jeff Cook, World Games Final Leg: Days 5 & 6

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.

Day 5 – (what a day)
Stop 1 – Golden Gate Bridge
Stop 2 – San Francisco’s famous Pier 39
Stop 3 – San Fran Union Square
Stop 4 – San Fan City Hall
Stop 5 – San Fran Overlook
We up extremely early and nearly saw the sun rise at the Golden Gate Bridge. We made multiple stops and saw some great people. The highlight of the day was running down to Pier 39 and saw a line of middle school students along the road who had made up and were displaying posters with our names on them. Seeing all our names on posters put a lump in my throat. It was a long, fantastic day.

Day 5_1 Day 5_2

Day 6
Stop 1 – Stockton CA
Stop 2 – Modesto CA
Stop 3 – Fresno CA
Stop 4 – Visalia CA
As the days go by there seems to be less time to recap each event before running to the next one. We are logging our miles in some great cities and well received by so many. Our presence as we make our way though the city streets being people out of their shops and homes to see what this chanting was all about.

Though each location was unique, Fresno had one of the larger and more formal ceremonies of the day. We were blessed to be inside their city council chambers after running at in 100+ degree heat for the first couple stops. Gorgeous weather and the sunshine is a blessing, however, a little warmer than necessary.

Senior Constable Claire Hawthorn of New South Wales and athlete Nigel Davis of Jamaica spoke at this ceremony. They both did a bang up job and met their goal of spreading awareness in exemplary fashion. The community and law enforcement turn out was appreciated by everyone of us representing our programs at home and around the country.

Day 6_1` Day 6_2

Jeff Cook, World Games Final Leg: Days 3 & 4

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.

Day 3 / Stop 1
Breakfast at the dining hall followed by a great run through downtown to the State Capitol. What a great turnout and representation by the Governor, Lt Governor, Commander Highway Patrol and several other dignitaries. This was a great kickoff event. The Final Leg advance team did a great job to start the ball rolling. Next stop lake Tahoe!

Day 3 / Stop 2 – Lake Tahoe
A great ride out to Lake Tahoe and a fantastic reception by the Governor of Nevada, LT Gov., Police Chief, Sheriff and local residents and athletes.

We came in loud and proud leaving our mark in Tahoe.

Day 3-1 Day 3-5

Day 4 /
Stop 1 – Davis CA
Stop 2 – Fairfield CA
Stop 3 – Napa CA
Stop 4 – Vallejo CA
Stop 5 – Pleasant Hill CA

Great start to the day in Davis at a small ceremony at a Bank of America location. We moved on to Fairfield and then Napa. In Fairfield, our Italian athlete, Gracciano, gave a moving speech in Italian that showed his passion and heart as his voice quivered and eyes watered. A language I did not understand still left many of us glassy eyed, myself included.

The city and scenery in Napa was as nice as expected. We saw a great Mexican dance presentation on our stage at the riverfront. The hilly port city of Vallejo was another great stop with good media coverage and a great view.

The teams all came together for our last stop in Pleasant Hill. 124 strong loudly belted out our cadence as we made our way to a large reception and ceremony. A splendid turnout by the people of Northern California. The pictures will barely do it justice.

Dinner at Fredo’s Italian Restaurant was magnificent. A very long and eventful day comes to a close. The Torch Run did its job and spread the word.

Day 4_3 Day 4_2

Mystie Lucast’s Journey to the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games

By Julia Ray and Debbie Lucast, Mystie’s aunt and mom

Mystie with Missouri's other World Games delegate, Matt Krippel, at the Sendoff in Los Angeles

Mystie with Missouri’s other World Games delegate, Matt Krippel, at the Sendoff in Los Angeles

1/26/13

Mystie Lucast is in Seoul on her journey to the 2013 Special Olympics World Games. Yesterday the highlight of the day was visiting a school for students with special needs. The school is special because it has a skating rink. The students there learn to speed skate. They speed skated for the skate team and then the athletes had ice time and were able to skate for the students. It was great to be able to be on the ice.

1/27/13

Sunday they met the U. S. Ambassador at the Consulate. That was cool. All of Team USA went. They wore their dress clothes for the visit. Monday night Mystie Face Timed with her mom, aunts and cousin. It was great to be able to see everyone.

1/29/13

Today (Tuesday) the skate team heads to Alpensia for the Opening Ceremonies. Two family members can attend since there is tight security since the President of the Republic of Korea will be present. The skate team will be staying in a college dorm near their skate rink in Gangneung. It has been a wonderful trip so far.

1/30/13

OpeningCeremonies_MystiePOA

Mystie, far right, during the Parade of Athletes at the Opening Ceremony

Last night after the long bus ride from Seoul we went to the Opening Ceremony. It was amazing. It took one hour and forty minutes for the 2000+ athletes from over 110 countries, including many countries going to their first winter world games.

After the parade of athletes, many welcoming remarks were given by people from Special Olympics and Korea. They had singers and dancers as well as a light show. Everything was done in Korean and English so everyone could understand. This was the first time Mystie was able to see her mom, even if it was from across the arena.

Today we get on the ice! Mystie will be skating her compulsaries.

1/31/13

Mystie did her compulsory routine yesterday and did a good job. I would say probably she placed second. I also learned that she only has one opportunity to earn a medal. They take the compulsory score and combine it with her artistic program for a total score. Therefore, figure skaters can only earn one medal.

Mystie visits the Healthy Athlete Village for free screenings

Mystie visits the Healthy Athlete Village for free screenings

We got to visit with her before she competed, we found her in the hair and makeup room. After she was finished they let us go in the skaters dressing room. I got a huge hug and she wouldn’t let go. She was a little emotional but said she was having a good time. She hasn’t seen much of Korea or been able to shop, we still haven’t found any place to shop.

We are going exploring today and won’t be able to see Mystie. We’ve tried Korean food (really spicy, even when they say it is not). We’ve learned that if you don’t leave your hotel key in the slots inside the door, you won’t have any heat when you get back, so the room is really cold, of course the floors are tile and really cold. I think we have finally adjusted to the time difference and caught up from our 24 hours without sleep.

The Egyptian skiers are seeing snow for the first time. They practiced back home on sand dunes. Can you imagine! It’s surprising to see some of the delegations. There’s are athletes here from countries where individuals with disabilities are put to death or shunned. Some countries like England don’t even have a delegation but other tiny counties have two or three athletes. Walking around the village makes you smile.

After the Games 

Mystie medal

Mystie shows off her silver medal. Photo by SOMO athlete Kayla Ezell.

Mystie says, “The end of the 2013 World games came so quickly. We stopped in Los Angeles on our way back to adjust to the time changes. I made so many friends at the games. I now have friends from across the United States and Canada. After I returned home, Pastor Darrell asked me to come up in front of the church and asked me how scared I was to skate in front of so many people. I told them that I was not scared because I had a church praying for me.”

The World Games are such a special memory.

Seeing Mystie compete on the ice and do her best was amazing. she was so poised in dealing with the many people who wanted their picture taken with her. Some were even asking for her autograph on her trading cards, which was very special to watch. During the awards ceremony, she stood on the sidelines and congratulated everyone. She was excited to see her friends win medals or even ribbons.

Mystie started her adventure as a young teenager and finished it with such poise and grace it was hard to believe she is only 14. She is happy to b back at school and with her family. These special memories will be with all of us for a lifetime.

The Koreans were special hosts and had a massive network of volunteers everywhere to help you out. The buses ran like clockwork to go between the villages and they had wonderful cultural events and tours for the families. We were able to watch Mystie each time she skated and attend the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Los Angeles has their work cut out for them to live up to the standards of the 2013 Special Olympics World Games!