World Games Updates
A chiropractor in Eagle, Idaho, and his family hosted the Special Olympics Netherlands speedskating team. When one athlete complained of back pain after his long trip, he was able to get a quick adjustment and felt much better!
Idaho Families Welcome Athletes in Host Town Program
Part of the excitement of World Games is experiencing exotic and unfamiliar parts of the world where geography and climate, cuisine, time changes, culture and language are both astonishingly divergent and delightfully intriguing. For many athletes and coaches it can be an overwhelming experience.
The Special Olympics Host Town program provides a soothing respite for hundreds of athletes, transforming bewilderment into enchantment, differences into shared experiences. For the host country, it is also an opportunity to engage entire communities as welcome centers and for the people of those communities to be both teachers and students. “We all need the lessons of pure joy these athletes bring with them,” says Belgium Host Town leader Judi Fuller.
From Sun Valley, hosting Tajikistan, the smallest delegation, to Boise, hosting Canada, the largest delegation, whole communities throughout Idaho (USA) have adopted teams from nearly 100 countries, opening their hearts and homes for four glorious days prior to the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. And people from all over the state are talking the same language –“sharing, gathering, honoring, embracing.” Bosnia and Herzegovina Host Town leader Maya Duratovic says hosting athletes has brought out the very best in her community. “Compassion and desire to help, being part of something that’s bigger than yourself, unity in celebrating the greatness that brings us together, not what brings us apart, is something that our community will cherish long after these Games are over.”
Turkmenistan Host Town leader Tim Davis says the experience is great for his children. “[Because] they have given up their beds and rooms for three nights while the athletes and coaches stay with us, it will be a good learning experience for them and teaches them about giving and helping others. It usually works out in these situations that the people most positively affected are the ones that are giving rather than the ones receiving, and I am sure that will be the case in our household.”
Experiences in Idaho ranged from enjoying toe-tapping fiddlers and swing dancing for athletes from Malaysia, Sweden, Belarus, Iran and the Netherlands; touring a dairy farm for Lebanon and Gibraltar; stompin’ at a hoe down with line dancing, lessons on roping and bit of bull riding for Kazakhstan; snow tubing and swimming in hot springs for Indonesia and San Marino; and visiting a local onion packing shed for Swiss athletes. Athletes from the Kyrgyz Republic got to pop their own popcorn at a specialty popcorn factory, and athletes from Trinidad and Tobago took a physical education class with students from Shadow Butte Elementary school and had lunch together to enlighten one another on their different cultures. Delegations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia felt right at home with a program of traditional Bosnian music, entertainment and dancing, while Girl Scouts hosting the New Zealanders treated the delegation to a Western barbeque. High on the list of activities for most host towns is the all-American “pot-luck” dinner – a community-gathering tradition in the United States.
For some athletes, the most astonishing sights are the most mundane for people living in the host country. For example, athletes from Malaysia were amazed by a washing machine, something they’d never seen before. Thinking the task would be exhausting and laborious, they followed the host town “mom” into the laundry room and watched in amazement as she “washed” the clothes in a machine.
Many athletes call their host town families “mom” and “dad,” and brag to one another that theirs is the best house and host family. Lot of “tired” athletes got a second wind when they were introduced to the Wii gaming system – it gave them a huge jolt of adrenaline and they played for hours.
And language wasn’t a barrier when a computer or iPhone was handy. Some host town families simply typed, “Are you hungry” or “breakfast is ready, and here’s what we are having” and found an Internet site that translated it into the athlete’s language – to the delight of all. When Swedish athletes asked for their morning coffee, their host family, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who do not drink coffee, quickly went out and bought coffee and a coffee maker. When the host mom asked how it tasted, the Swedish athlete put his arm around her (to soften the blow) and whispered, “crappy” – immediate laughter abounded.
Lebanon Host Town leader Ginnyann Hayes says the Host Town program has tremendous impact on hearts and attitudes. “You cannot be around these Special Olympic athletes and not be touched by them. They bring happiness to everyone they meet. Watching them try and work and love life will melt even the hardest of hearts. The more people they have contact with, the more they can impact, and the fact that they come from other countries dissolves all political and social boundaries. We are all members of the human race, with goodness inside us all. Learning to accept others who are different than ourselves is one of the greatest things we can all learn. The Host Town program certainly accomplishes that on a grand scale,” declares Hayes.
Kazakhstan Host Town leader Malia Hollowell adds, “My hope is that the Host Town program will lead to awareness and getting the message out about what a great program Special Olympics is, and that individuals who have special needs are incredible and a blast to work with.”