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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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.

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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!