My time at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games was a magical and impactful experience. My role as a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger (SSIGM) was as an honored guest. During my time at USA Games in Orlando, Florida, I had an audible part in the Opening Ceremony, co-led an introduction to Unified Leadership training, and had fun at Disney’s Animal and Magic Kingdoms, just to name a few of my most memorable USA Games moments.
One of those top highlights was being involved in the Opening Ceremony through audio. For the Parade of Athletes, the moment when all the delegations came into the stadium, I had the opportunity to record voiceovers introducing each delegation and where they were from. This was an impactful experience to lend my voice to the Opening Ceremony. During the Opening Ceremony fellow SSIGM Hanna and myself, along with our mentors, sat near the top of the stadium with Capt. Jill and Christine from United Airlines’ Bridge Business Resource Group, which connects people of all abilities. It was an amazing experience to share the Opening Ceremony with two colleagues from United since Hanna and I are both employed there as Service Ambassadors.
Later in the evening of our first day, we had an opportunity to see a performance of Drawn to Life, Presented by Cirque du Soleil, and Disney. I’ve never been to a Cirque du Soleil performance before, and this show was incredible. The dance performances and acrobatic moves were incredible, but my favorite was how the Drawn to Life performance intertwined Disney animation into the performance.
Another highlight from my time at USA Games was co-presenting an introduction to Unified Leadership training. I presented this along with fellow SSIGM Renee and Brandon from the organizational excellence and inclusive leadership development team at Special Olympics. We presented to employees from Coca-Cola, a longtime supporter of Special Olympics. All the Coca-Cola employees that attended our Unified Leadership session were all really engaged with our presentations, asking lots of questions after we spoke. On this athlete panel and Unified Leadership training, we discussed the history of Special Olympics, the importance of building a more inclusive society, and our role as allies. Listen or watch our full Unified Leadership training with Coca-Cola at specialchronicles.com/podcast484
The next day we as SSIGM’s, along with the Global Athlete Leadership Council (GALC) and our mentors, had a fun day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. We began the day early in the morning at Animal Kingdom. Since there were many long lines to get in the rides, we only had time for a few rides including Avatar, Everest, and a train ride in the Africa part of Animal Kingdom. Among the rides we were able to go on my favorite was the Avatar. When you put 3D glasses on, it felt like you were in the Avatar World. After Animal Kingdom we went to Magic Kingdom and walked down Main Street to see a few Disney characters. Then we went on Space Mountain, It’s a Small World and Peter Pan rides. It was a magical and fun experience to visit a couple of the Disney Parks with my fellow SSIGM’s and athlete leaders.
A few other highlights were watching the surfing finals and cheering on our Illinois flag football team. The surfing event took place at Typhoon Lagoon in a water park, and it was astounding how the athletes were able to surf with all the big waves that were in the water. Another highlight was watching the Special Olympics Illinois flag football team win gold against the Special Olympics Pennsylvania team. It was a fun game to watch and observe how all the athletes were there for each other as they played.
Another SSIGM role I had was to take part in a Volunteer Shadow experience with a Youth Unified Pair from Special Olympics Washington. The pair of high school students asked me questions about my role as an SSIGM and about my over a decade of experience podcasting on Special Chronicles. The youth pair was really engaged and curious about my experiences in the media and about the work I do as an SSIGM on behalf of my fellow athletes around the globe.
On our last day before we went to the airport, my fellow SSIGMs Renee and Hanna along with our mentors played miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens. It was a lot of fun to have one last outing to include in our time in Orlando at USA Games.
Finally, during my time at USA Games, I hosted the Orlando Daily Show, an exclusive video series and live podcast. On this show, I interviewed family members, bocce Venue Volunteer Committee members, and sponsors from United Airlines, Hasbro, and Coca-Cola. Listen or watch the Orlando Daily Show on Special Chronicles, recorded LIVE from USA Games at: specialchronicles.com/podcast485
I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience at USA Games and I hope you saw how, through this incredible and impactful experience, we all were able to Shine As One. I hope you will join us and Shine As One.