One of my top highlights was when I, along with my fellow SSIGM’s, had the opportunity to participate during the Opening Ceremony which aired on live television. On the global stage, there were 6 speakers, including Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics, and fellow SSIGM Hasseeb Abbasi from Special Olympics Pakistan. The remaining 9 SSIGM’s stood in a half-circle behind the speakers. This truly was an incredible experience to get the opportunity to stand on the global stage and wave to the crowd. As we were standing on the stage, we were accepted; we were included. And as The Determined, we stood on that stage at the Opening Ceremony as leaders of the Inclusion Revolution.
Another highlight was when Coca-Cola sponsored a luncheon for all of the SSIGM’s. This luncheon took place at the Li Jiang Restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Mhutar Kent, the chairman of Coca Cola, was there and he along with Tim Shriver hosted us. Also in attendance at the Coca-Cola luncheon were members of the Shriver family and many celebrity global ambassadors for Special Olympics who we got to talk to such as Apollo Ohno, Michelle Kawn, Hannah Teter, Dikembe Mutombo, and Dale Moss to name a few. I had the opportunity to kick off the event with a brief speech thanking everyone for their support of all of us SSIGM’s. I then turned the program over to my fellow SSIGM’s to have each of them introduce themselves to all those who attended our luncheon. This luncheon was an incredible experience for us all to have lunch with many well-known personalities.
One of the major speaking opportunities I had during World Games 2019 was speaking at the Media Reception. In addition to the fact that the media reception had the best appetizers of all the receptions we attended (an added bonus to this highlight of my time at World Games), I spoke about inclusion in the media. I also thanked those in the media for coming to World Games and for covering the stories of my fellow Special Olympics athletes who were competing on the global stage. As a media professional myself (founder & host of podcasts on SpecialChronicles.com), I appreciated the fact that those in the media who attended this reception came up to me, after I spoke, and interacted with me. They showed me the power of inclusion. This is what the Inclusion Revolution is about and I’m thankful these members of the media understand why it is important to Choose To Include. I’m grateful the media helped to breakdown barriers, spread to the world our athlete stories and broadcast our athlete voices.
An additional highlight from my time at World Games 2019 was the Founders Reception we attended at the Emirates Palace Hotel (a 7-star hotel). This was a fun experience to interact with all in attendance, including tons of people asking to take photos with me and the rest of the SSIGM’s. Fellow SSIGM’s Ian and Emmanuel did a great job co-emceeing the event. A special treat at the Founders Reception was at the end of the program, all of the SSIGMs went on stage and invited Francis Sargent Shriver, the grandson of Tim Shriver, to join us on stage.
In addition to the speaking and meet & greet opportunities I had at receptions, I also was one of the SSIGM’s who hosted the Abu Dhabi Daily Show, a podcast series we produced from Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. I talked with Special Olympics Inc (SOI) board members, global ambassadors, and fellow athletes. During my time at World Games 2019, I hosted nine interviews.
A few highlights of the episodes of the Abu Dhabi Daily Show that I hosted include:
● Kiera Byland: from SO Great Britain who won 3 gold medals in cycling
● Mark Shriver: SOI Board member who spoke about Young Athletes, inclusion, and more.
● Fellow SSIGM Hanna Atkinson joined me at the Healthy Athletes venue to talk about the new Strong Minds discipline of Healthy Athletes.
● Apollo Ohno: Global Ambassador and 3x Olympic speedskater talked about health, inclusion, and World Games.
These were just a few highlighted episodes from the Abu Dhabi Daily Show. Be sure to check out the full episodes on SpecialOlympics.org — just search for “Abu Dhabi Daily Show”.
In addition to the sporting venues, receptions, and speaking opportunities I had during World Games, another fun highlight was the camel ride we took at sunset in the desert. First, let me tell you what a bumpy ride it is to be on top of a camel! When we first arrived, the camel got quite low. We then sat, two people per camel and all four camels were attached. We were then taken on a ride throughout the desert atop the two humps of the camel. This was a fun cultural experience we had of being in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
We also went on the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi and we went on multiple times (probably at least 10 times) as we closed the roller coaster down for the evening. That same evening after we went on the world’s fastest roller coaster we went to the YAS Marina Circuit, which was the same location of the cycling venue for World Games (and the same place where the Grand Prix auto race takes place). Many of my fellow SSIGM’s and I took place in a Unified cycling event at nighttime. It was a ton of fun to participate in this Unified cycling event.
Finally to conclude, I’m incredibly honored to have had the opportunity to attend Special Olympics World Games 2019 in Abu Dhabi as a SSIGM. The country of the UAE did an excellent job and was really organized throughout all the venues of the Games. I’m grateful for their support for all of the people of determination, a term that I hope more nations and regions throughout the world, including within our own region of North America, might start using. All the staff and volunteers were so kind and inclusive. This World Games 2019 experience was incredible and I’m thankful to all of you, our readers, who have had the opportunity to #MeetTheDetermined and to be unified through the coverage I hosted on the Abu Dhabi Daily Show, the fantastic coverage ESPN produced, and all of the additional coverage around the world. I hope you will always remember to #ChooseToInclude and #BeUnified!