by Nicole Hanratty
Los Angeles proved it is a city filled with angels hosting what is reported to be the largest humanitarian event in 2015. The Special Olympics World Games 2015 (July 25 – August 2, 2015) which included hosting 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 countries participating in 25 events at 27 venues for 9 days has come to a close, but the affect it has had on the reported 30,000 volunteers and 500,000 spectators will last forever.
When the long hours, lack of sleep, endless needs, and rising expenses all kick in post child-birth, parents begin to understand the old adage, “It takes a village.” Now add an intellectual challenge to the mix and multiply those needs in ways you can’t imagine unless you’ve lived or witnessed it yourself. Where common communities can fail to meet the needs of the intellectually challenged, a Special Olympics sized village has succeeded.
Providing a global stage with media partner ESPN to showcase the athletic talents of the intellectually challenged, LA made the athletes the true stars in Hollywood fashion. From red carpets to step and repeats, the most common site at the games was spectators and volunteers asking athletes for photos with them. Los Angeles kept the world’s focus on Special Olympics athletes throughout the games and you can see all the Special Olympics World Games results here.
More than just a springboard for inclusion, the Special Olympics village on the USC Campus also featured free medical treatments via the Healthy Athletes program for athletes in seven fields: Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNfitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being), Healthy Hearing (audiology), MedFest (sports physical exam), Opening Eyes (vision) and Special Smiles (dentistry). Early reports(1) indicate that more than 500 hearing aids were given out, 600 pairs of glasses and 4,300 pairs of shoes.
Volunteering inside Gymnastics(2) with music for sports production, I witnessed first hand the positive effect providing a nationally broadcast world class production for talented brave athletes can have on self-esteem, self-worth, confidence and emotional well-being. Beautiful spirits live within the intellectually challenged—proof of which was on constant display at Special Olympics World Games 2015—and seen in the spontaneous excited reaction of each athlete overcome by applause from Fans in the Stands inside Gymnastics.
Embedded forever in my mind will be the athlete’s unfiltered smiles accompanied by unrestrained displays of gratitude, joy and pure exhilaration. Not held back by societal norms, these athletes let their hearts lead and bring every raw emotion to the table. From high fives for the judges their teammates as well as athletes from other countries to hugging their coaches and the volunteers that eagerly awaited them on the sidelines when they completed their events, the athletes expressed excitement at every turn. Los Angeles set an example for the country that no condition should discount a person’s need to experience the benefits of sport and recognition of talent.
Moment after celebratory moment, made the many hours pass like minutes. At level one and level two for floor routines including ball, ribbon, and hoop, the same song is played on repeat for hours to accompany the universally taught routines the gymnasts perform. I was proud to be a part of a music effort led by rock star DJ Andy Khachaturian (OnTronik, Apex Theory, System of a Down) that embraced an attitude that every time we pushed play was like the first. For a countless number of hours we stood up for performances, rallying the crowd to clap along, cheer and move to the beat.
None of the volunteers at Gymnastics left the gym other than to grab food or coffee—often for other team members—and there was never a complaint or word that was anything other than positive. As hours passed into days, our fearless leader sports production producer Matthew Kessinger dubbed us “Teal Team 6” (see photo below). Together with devoted coaches, loving parents, dozens of judges, athlete liaisons, Special Olympics devoted employees and volunteers, members of the National Guard, members of the LAPD, employees of Coca-Cola hand delivering water and beverages, attending members of the press, thousands of fans, the generous donations of Special Olympics World Games sponsors (see below) and UCLA, we helped create a rockstar experience for hundreds of gymnasts who traveled from all over the world to the stage we all had a hand in setting.
Also of special note was the attention to detail our professional announcers Daniel Goglanian and Rhonda Kinosian took to make each athlete feel acknowledged and special. The two went out of their way to hunt down athletes and coaches to attain phonetic name pronunciations—no small feat given the multiple language barriers—to ensure each gymnast was given a proper introduction. Daniel Goglanian wrote a beautiful thank you to the parents which he read out loud and led many to tears. The Special Olympics athletes must have felt the love of the professional team behind them as they often times came over to high five us after they performed. (See photo above.)
On my third morning in, I left my credential in the car and had to run back to the parking lot to grab it. I hopped on the wrong bus with the right bus driver. The kind driver “bent” his route for me and even took a little “extra” time turning around while I ran into my car to grab my pass. I couldn’t thank him enough as he dropped me back to John Wooden Center. His reply, “Team work makes the dream work.” Our production team adopted the bus driver’s motto and put that mentality to work.
(Photo above: “Teal Team 6” members left to right: Rachel McKinnon, Rhonda Kinosian, Daniel Goglanian, Matt Kessinger, Andy Khachaturian and Nicole Hanratty with Special Guest Coca-Cola #ReachUP singer and Special Olympics athlete Bree Bogucki in the middle after her live performance at Collins Court in John Wooden Center at UCLA.)
A special highlight during the days at gymnastics was when talented artist Bree Bogucki (photo above) came in to Collins Court and thrilled fans by singing a cover of Colbie Caillat’s “Try.” “Bree is a Special Olympics athlete and singer. Bree has Autism and once had no expressive language and extreme sensory issues. With amazing Speech and Occupational Therapists, wonderful special education teams, teachers and therapists. Bree now strives to #ReachUp and inspire others to show the world what you CAN DO!!”—via Bree Bogucki’s facebook bio). Bree spent time talking with me about her involvement in Special Olympics as an athlete and as an ambassador for Coca-Cola as part of the #ReachUp program along with Marc Roberge of O.A.R., Cody Simpson and Madison Tevlin. Her sweet nature and inspirational story of success is a reminder that challenges can be overcome and talent lies within all of us.
How can you spark change? Special Olympics is not just every two years, it’s everyday and you can get involved in your community. We can all do more, be more and work harder to help others reach their full potential through this amazing organization. Since my participation in the World Games, I have received numerous calls from friends asking me how they can get involved. It’s incredible to see first hand how my involvement is bringing light to this cause in my community. You can get involved and help the movement catch fire in your town too! Check here for ways to get involved with Special Olympics.
I was absolutely energized and fueled by the love and excitement that filled the John Wooden Center gymnasium at Collins Court. On the last day of Special Olympics, friend and music artist manager Milton Hopkins sent me a photo of a plaque he appropriately ran across in Hermosa Beach with a quote by John Wooden, “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” Nothing I can think of says it better. The seven days I spent volunteering for Special Olympics World Games 2015 in Los Angeles were the most perfect days of my life.
Here are 100 (plus) Moments to remember that reflect my “perfect days” at Special Olympics World Games 2015 in Los Angeles:
2. I was just one of 30,000 reported volunteers participating in the World Games. Gymnastics ran from Saturday the 25th through Saturday, August 1st—with the exception of Wednesday when gymnastics went dark so the National Guard could come in to transform the gym set up from Rhythmic to Artistic. The seven competition days started at 7:30AM and most days ended at 7:30PM. While some staff was paid, most were volunteers who like me put their personal lives on the back burner to be a part of this phenomenal sport and humanitarian event. Volunteers also gave up two days to be at training prior to the event and another afternoon to pick up credentials and uniforms downtown at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was an experience of a lifetime to witness the power humans can have when they come together to create positive change.
Thanks to Special Olympics for having me out to volunteer and to my “Teal Team 6” members Matt Kessinger, Daniel Goglanian, Rhonda Kinosian, Andy Khachaturian and Rachel McKinnon for making this a rock star experience.
Extra special thank you to my parents for taking care of their grandpuppy so I could spend my days serving these incredible athletes.
MAKE A DONATION Every contribution helps. Give a gift at LA2015.com/donate and know that you’re helping to expand the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in communities around the world.
Via Special Olympics la2015.org:
Special Olympics is a global movement that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, every day around the world. We empower people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all. Using sports as the catalyst and programming around health and education, Special Olympics is fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance.
Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries. With the support of more than 1.3 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and more than 94,000 games and competitions throughout the year.
Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including the Christmas Records Trust, the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics®, The Coca-Cola Company, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Lions Clubs International, Mattel, P&G, Bank of America, Essilor Vision Foundation, the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation, Finish Line, The Safeway Foundation, and Safilo Group. Visit Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org. Engage with us on: twitter@specialolympics, fb.com/specialolympics, youtube.com/specialolympicshq,instagram.com/specialolympics and specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com.