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Today is our final full day in New Jersey and while I am exhausted, it's sad that this experience is drawing to a close.
Yesterday morning was our awards ceremony and while I've heard differing stories from other teams, ours was organized and ran smoothly - a feat I can appreciate from personal experience in St. Louis! Don't think I'm not taking notes, New Jersey ...
Because our score from Wednesday's round of play was quite a bit higher than the previous two days, and our qualifying scores, Stephanie and I were disqualified and received a participation ribbon. Special Olympics has, and enforces, a "best effort" rule, requiring your scores to fall within a certain range of your initial score so as not to under or over-estimate your initial scores and gain an unfair advantage. Understandable, but still disappointing! Stephanie, however, was all smiles and has been showing off her ribbon everywhere we go, which brings me full circle to why I agreed to be her partner. It's about the journey, not the destination, and some of our athletes have never travelled outside Missouri, never flown on a plane and never before been offered such an amazing experience as attending a National Games. Stephanie is so excited to be here, and compete on a national level, it didn't matter to her what award we received, just that we are here and had the chance to play together. Thanks for the reminder, Stephanie!
The remainder of the golf team had a great day of play on Wednesday and are bringing home all the hardware to show it! I was also excited to see so many family members of our athletes at the awards ceremony - they have taken a week away from work and the rest of their family to support us, and have "adopted" those athletes who did not have family travelling with them.
Last night was our dinner cruise around the Statue of Liberty, which was beyond-words-amazing. A dinner away from the dining hall, on a four-level ship taking in the New York skyline at sunset? Yes, please! Another experience that our athletes may never have again, I was excited to share that night with them!
And that brings us to Closing Ceremonies tonight, a way for us to say goodbye to New Jersey and this life-changing week. Stephanie and I have our bags packed and have turned in our dorm room key, and have one more chance to party together before our flights leave in the morning. We've done SOMO proud and can't wait to return to Missouri, but will never forget all the people we've met and fun times we've had this week!
Today was the final day of competition for the golf team; our coaches have done a great job of keeping us in clean clothes, under shade, hydrated and fed all week so we can play our best and the team chatter was that today was a successful day on the links!
After two days of preliminary play, teams and individuals were divisioned last night for a final day of competition today so the heat was on (literally and figuratively) to do our best. Stephanie and I were not paired with an opponent on the course, so we had fun playing nine holes by ourselves - I've really enjoyed my time as her teammate and think we've really bonded this week.
Our hosts have kept us busy in the evenings as well - last night we enjoyed a Trenton Thunder minor-league baseball game, at which our golf teammate Tre'e was asked to throw out the first pitch. Such an exciting experience for her!! And tonight we shuttled ourselves to The College of New Jersey for Olympic Town, which was a Jersey Shore-themed carnival with games and rides. We all took turns on the Ferris Wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl, who doesn't remember those from school picnics and county fairs?!
Tomorrow we are awarded our medals and ribbons, so I will report back on the golf team stats. Thank you for following our journey thus far, while competition has ended, our experiences at USA Games will luckily last a few more days!
Day 1 at the Mercer Oaks Golf Course was a SOMO success! After dinner tonight, we sat down as a team and shared the high points from our day; Thomas had multiple lucky shots off of trees, Nick played "Nick golf", Ter'e and Tina had amazing scores for their first round of individual skills play, Stephanie did a great job of hitting the ball straight down the fairway, and Chris kept his head over the ball. Success!
Stephanie and I had the pleasure of competing against ladies from Team Nebraska; it was a long, hot morning of golf but they made it enjoyable and we had fun cheering each other on. The spirit of the USA Games are so different from the competitive world of high school and college sports that I am used to; while SOMO athletes are playing their hardest to win, they are also the first to encourage a competitor and wish them the best, which I love to watch.
Campus is filled with stories of athletes from all over the country, returning to their dorm rooms with a day of achievement, and I can't wait to experience more as the week goes on. With two more days of competition for SOMO golf, I'm looking forward to more quality time with the team, rehashing our day and the personal milestones we surpass. Wish us luck tomorrow!
Our mission today was simple; experience USA Games Opening Ceremonies and let it blow our minds!
Having never attended a national event, I didn't really know what to expect; SOMO puts on a pretty amazing Opening Ceremony at State Games and I thought that was a good comparison. However, New Jersey is pulling off amazing feats that I never would have expected! Each state was treated to a police escort to the event at the Prudential Center, over an hour drive, which included the total shutdown of all highways we travelled. The Highway Patrol, Department of Transportation and local police blocked all traffic, even on the New Jersey Turnpike, until we safely passed through. Even our shuttle driver was in awe as this NEVER happens, he says, even for the New York Yankees ....
The event itself was an amazing treat of celebrity sightings, beautiful music and dancing, pyrotechnics and the lighting of an impressive cauldron; I would highly recommend streaming the event online at www.2014specialolympics.org, as I can hardly do it justice, you must see it for yourself!
The theme of the ceremony was celebrating the champion in every athlete; regardless of the medal count, the message was to be inspired by how far each athlete has come and how hard they have worked.
I also learned that USA Games are made possible in part by the efforts of over 10,000 volunteers, which I also find so inspiring. I can tell you we've been greeted in the most special way and treated like celebrities by the volunteers in New Jersey - we are in good hands for the week!
Best of luck to all athletes and partners competing tomorrow!
Mo Magic has landed in the Garden State for the 2014 USA Games! Despite an early departure this morning, spirits were high on three waves of flights carrying SOMO athletes from St. Louis to Princeton, NJ. For some athletes, today was their first experience travelling by plane, and for others, the excitement of the upcoming event was evident all day long!
After landing in Philadelphia, we had non-stop support from amazing volunteers from New Jersey; we were greeted at our gate, escorted to the baggage claim, helped with luggage to our shuttle bus and greeted again at Rider University by New Jersey staff and volunteers and the National Guard. I'm already amazed and impressed by their hospitality and can't wait to see what this next week brings!
The golf team has already started discussing our strategy for competition this week and I'm excited by our chances to bring home the gold. I'm already so proud of all the preparation it took our SOMO athletes to get here, and know they will excel no matter what. I will keep you posted on team results, but know that friends of a lifetime will be made this week and experiences and memories will result from USA Games that cannot be erased.
"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."