Special_Olympics_BannerServing as a volunteer for Special Olympics is an invaluable experience that is not only life-changing, but also life-shaping.

By Taylor Reese, special to USTAFoundation.com

Taylor Reese was a first-time volunteer at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games held in New Jersey. This is her account of her heart-touching experience.

I don’t know if I could do the week justice, but I’m going to try, because I learned so much from the athletes. I learned that it doesn’t really matter what the outcome is, trying is the most important part. Even if you come in last place, everyone will still be proud of you for being there and competing. There is so much more to the games than how you finish.

It was a great learning experience to see what goes on “behind the scenes,” what it takes to put together games of this magnitude (3,500 athletes, 10,000 volunteers, 70,000 family, friends, and spectators). Every meeting I went to I learned more and more.  I realized there were so many things that had to be thought about, from the logistics of the water coolers on the courts to the divisioning of matches. It was all so new to me, but I soaked it up and loved every second of it.

Over the course of the week, our committee became a family. And from that family, life- long friendships emerged. The people I met were some of the best, and from all over the country! California, Wisconsin… you name it!

We had not expected to get volunteers the first morning because we were only divisioning for two hours, so we were worried, to say the least. When a group of 100 volunteers showed up, we were ecstatic. They formed a tunnel so that when the buses of athletes pulled up, they got a very loud welcome. This set the precedent for the week. When I saw the first bus full of athletes and heard the cheering for them, I got goosebumps. That moment was what we were working towards for so long. They were finally there.

There were some moments that moved me to tears. Watching parents hug and cry as they watched their children receive their medals and recognition got me every time. It was so incredible to see them so proud and so filled with joy because of what their athletes had accomplished.

One incident in particular had me sobbing. Before he even got on stage, one of the athletes was crying. He seemed so overcome with the emotion of the moment, seeing everyone cheering and taking pictures. He tried to hold it together, but up there on the podium he lost it. Another athlete instinctively put his arm around the one in tears. They hugged and comforted each other. I sobbed. That was the moment that made me say, “This is what these games are about.” It is about the athletes getting recognition for the year of training they put in; it is their hard work paying off. The games are about the world seeing what they are capable of, and cheering them on every step of the way. I was just so proud of all of them.

I will take that week with me through the rest of my life. Being involved with Special Olympics has been an amazing experience. It has become a passion.

Some people say that experiences are life-changing.  For me, Special Olympics has been life-shaping.

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Put the 2015 Special Olympics World Games (Los Angeles) on your calendar: July 25-Aug 2.  There will be 7000 athletes from 177 nations.  Tennis will be played at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on the UCLA campus.  More information can be found at www.la2015.org.

 
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