By Amy Sheridan – Director Special Events Marketing
I have been fortunate to be around sports my whole life – first as an athlete and competitor throughout my childhood, then in my professional life with a Major League Baseball team, and most recently in my personal life as a “Soccer Mom.” There is nothing like the thrill of sports, the art of competition, and I am drawn to the atmosphere created by an engaged and enthusiastic crowd.
When joining the Special Olympics team this spring, I knew the state’s biggest event of the year would be happening shortly thereafter and I was full of anticipation. Driving down to ISU for my first Summer Games, my thoughts were with the over 4,000 athletes making the same journey, also with what I could only imagine were high hopes as to what the weekend would bring.
As a recent addition to the team, my role was to observe and take in as much as I could over the non-stop weekend. Wow, I’m not sure I could have enjoyed or experienced it better than from the view of every spectator. In reflecting back, each person I met, every story I heard, and each competition I witnessed, contributed to an overwhelming feeling of amazement. It also led to a feeling of pride to have become a member of this world-class organization.
Author Gina Greenlee says, ”When we establish human connections within the context of shared experience, we create community wherever we go.” When thinking about that quote, I think about the connection that thousands of us experienced together at Opening Ceremonies when powerlifter, Garrett Johnson set the tone for the weekend by delivering a speech by proclaiming “this is the place to be. We are leaders.” I also share the rush of emotion and welling eyes at the sight of the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run proudly parading a mass of flames into Hancock Stadium to an erupting crowd.
Saturday, within the sea of thousands of athletes, I found my friend of over five years, Maika. Maika continues to be part of two employment programs for people with intellectual disabilities that I helped to create with the support of my two previous employers. We have so many shared experiences from being co-workers, friends, and the best was yet to come. I was able to share her experience of going for the gold. And then, she did it! She won the gold right in front of all of us and I was honored to feel her joy with her.
I will forever vividly remember the coaches, judges, and other athletes wildly cheering for each other at powerlifting. The spirit of community was tangible and on full display by those encouraging others around them to crush their personal records, even if it meant a silver medal as a result.
Making our rounds to each of the competition venues, my colleagues and I stopped by the pool deck to cheer on the swimmers. Moments after our visit, the unthinkable would happen, one of our aquatic athletes experienced a medical emergency during his competition and ultimately passed away. We were in disbelief and stunned when we heard the news about Barry Mogk. The weekend had been incredibly uplifting but the reality of how precious life is came to the forefront. What happened next warmed my saddened heart. We all mourned for our fellow athlete and member of our community by coming together and celebrating his life at the Victory Dance that evening at the wishes of his family. Barry was active on social media and one of his final posts was the Special Olympics oath – “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
During what was an emotional moment became an inspiring and uplifting example of life full of kindness, inclusion and community that I will remember always. As Garrett said during Opening Ceremonies, SO welcomes all regardless of age, gender, religion, race and ability. All are welcome and respected and it was an honor to have been part of the experience.