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Thursday was team competition. We had a regulation team of Tanya, Tiffany, Ryan and Michael. Our Unified team was Lindsey, Amanda, Chris and CJ.
We hadn't been knowing their divisions ahead of time, but I guess some coaches were complaining about that, so they printed them for us on Thursday. It actually ended up making me more stressed because I kept checking the other teams' scores! They were both in really tough divisions. The Unified team was in the highest division of the entire competition. The regulation teams were neck-and-neck as far as their divisioning scores.
I sat with the regulation team for almost the entire series. They were all bowling great the first game, but I could tell they were getting tired toward the end of the second game. After three full days of bowling, who could blame them? I did my best to give them encouragement and keep them going, but the girls especially were really struggling the last game. With six teams in our division, I really couldn't tell where we landed at the end.
Thursday night was our dinner cruise. We had heard nothing but good things about this, so we were all really excited. We loaded the boats at the "Empty Sky" memorial, which is where you would have had a view of the twin towers from the Jersey side. For most of our athletes, this was their first view of the skyline besides the glimpse we got on the bus from Philly. It was fun to see their eyes open wide in awe of the skyscrapers. NYC is one of my favorite cities, so I was excited to watch this happen.
I guess the GOC had not expected that everyone would want to do the cruise, so the first two nights had been really crowded, and they ordered a second ship for the final two nights. We were on the larger of the two, which was also the second one to load, so we left the dock a little later than expected. Although dinner was ready, we all opted to go up to the rooftop deck of the boat and take in the views of the Statue of Liberty. It was right at sunset, and it was breathtaking.
There was a dance going on down on the first floor. I watched from over the railing on the third floor. Special Olympics dances are some of my favorite memories. The athletes just get out there and dance like nobody's watching, even if they've been up for 12 hours and are completely exhausted. It's exhilarating to watch people be so high on life. I caught sight of the DJ, who was dancing up on a speaker, singing along and leading the athletes in some chants. He looked like he was having more fun than the athletes.
It made me think about all of the people who have experienced Special Olympics for the first time this week. From the first-time volunteers, to the staff at the venues, to the bus drivers, and even the people we sat next to on the plane -- we have spread the mission of Special Olympics far and wide this week. We have shown the nation that we are more alike than different; that our athletes are valuable members of society; that what really defines us is our character - not our IQ. We have been brave in the attempt. We have been champions. The magic of Special Olympics has forever changed the state of New Jersey, I'm sure of it.
As the boat started to head back to shore, Tiffany and I stood out on the deck. She told me she didn't want to go home, and that this was probably the only time she'd get to see the NYC skyline. I am so grateful that Special Olympics gives our athletes these kinds of experiences. It is worth every penny, every late night, every frustration, every tear.
Friday morning, we went over to the theatre to receive our final awards. Our regulation team got 4th place. I was really hoping they'd get a medal since Tanya hadn't had one, and I knew the division was so close. Tanya will still happy as could be, though. Our Unified team pulled out a bronze, completing Chris's collection of gold and silver. Michael took his bouquet of flowers and told me he wanted me to have them. I still cannot believe how far he has come since I first met him and he would barely speak to me.
Tonight is the closing ceremony, and tomorrow we head home.
I'm up late doing laundry, and I'm about to fall asleep sitting up, so my apologies if this is short and/or doesn't make any sense.
Today was doubles competition. The divisions were spread all throughout the lanes, so we really had no way of knowing how we were doing other than to base it off of our averages. It looked like the girls might be struggling and that the boys were doing pretty well.
We got to awards, which was running much more smoothly than yesterday. We didn't want a repeat of the confusion/disappointment from Lindsey, so we pulled her and Tiffany aside and told them to prepare for a ribbon, not a medal. They were both below their averages today, so I was really not expecting much. However, when they walked out onto stage, they were in the bronze position. I was shocked! A split second after Coach Bea and I figured it out, so did the girls, and they nearly fainted on stage! When they got their medals, they had the biggest, most surprised looks on their faces. They hugged and beamed and I think I saw a tear or two. It turned into a really cool surprise.
I feel the need to interject here. If you've been to area or state, it may sound strange to be getting so excited over a bronze medal. Besides the obvious answer that it's the NATIONAL level, these divisions are almost all 6-8 deep. Back in Missouri, we rarely have more than 4 or 5 in a division. So it is actually a huge deal to be one of the best three in the entire country.
Next, Ryan and Michael walked out - GOLD! Wow. We thought they had a chance, but I am just blown away at Michael's performances to both get gold. What a great accomplishment.
Then they moved on to Unified divisions. Amanda had already figured out that she and Tanya got 4th place. They were in an odd division with a ramp bowler and a pair of mixed (male and female) doubles. Not sure exactly how that works; I guess because it's Unified.
Last was Chris and CJ - SILVER! They had obviously been placed in the highest division because they were alllllll the way at the end of the alley and almost no pins were left standing down there. So again, I feel really proud that they were able to pull that off.
Tonight we had Special Olympics Town. They had set it up to look like the New Jersey boardwalk, complete with ferris wheel, games with fluffy stuffed animal prizes, funnel cake, a sand pit and a Springsteen cover band. I don't think I can explain how cool this was, because it was so much more awesome than I expected it to be. Maybe it was because we'd just come off an exciting afternoon of awards. Maybe it was because Michael kept surprising me by wanting to ride all the rides and climb the rock wall. Maybe it was because we ate dinner at the other campus's dining hall. Maybe it was because I haven't been on a Tilt-A-Whirl in approximately 15 years. Maybe it was because I got to spend an hour or so with my hubby . . .
OH YEAH. I have to briefly mention that. Jeremie and Bobby won gold in their tennis Unified doubles today, too! He'll tell the story much better than me over at https://somo.org/jeremie but I couldn't be prouder.
Our competition wraps up tomorrow with teams.
Tuesday was the day for singles competition. This meant that everyone was bowling except for our Unified Partners, Amanda and CJ. They were good teammates and tagged along to cheer everyone on.
Have I mentioned this bowling alley has 82 lanes? That is pretty challenging when you have six athletes spread out from lane 12 to lane 64. Coach Bea and I took turns running around to check on everyone and give them a little encouragement when they needed it. Luckily Mo Magic fans are the best, so there were only a few times when our athletes were truly on their own.
Michael had an amazing first and second game, then leveled out a little on his third. Ryan struggled in his first game until his cheering section showed up. Lindsey had a good first game, then a low second game. She took some deep breaths and started out her third game with two strikes! Chris was consistently our highest scorer, and we could tell he was placed in one of the highest divisions in the tournament. One of the other guys on his lane ended the day with a 700 series! Tanya and Tiffany both bowled right around their average. Since we couldn't tell how the divisions were split up among the lanes, we could only speculate about the results.
The nice thing about having 82 lanes is that we can get through everyone in one session! We finished up around 11 am and caught a bus back to Rider. After a quick lunch, we caught a few minutes of the volleyball team's game. From what we saw, they were kicking butt!
The awards theatre is on our campus, so it was just a short walk from the volleyball venue. We left the girls at staging and went into the auditorium. Wow, was it packed! They were having the guys stage in one section of seating, so even though the other two sections were large, there were barely any seats open. That's a lesson for tomorrow for sure. They ended up calling the guys down, too, but then that section filled up almost immediately. Here is where being a communications staffer has its perks: I snagged a seat up front in the media section.
Since we didn't have the girls' divisions, we anxiously waited to see who would come out first. It was Lindsey! Even when they walk out, it is hard to see where they've placed because they put gold in the middle, silver to the left, bronze to the right, 4th to the left of silver and so on. You can always see people finding the middle and then counting their way out as soon as the athletes are in place. Lindsey's division was more complicated, though, because they were lined up unevenly. This was also the first time the awards crew had done a ceremony, so they didn't quite have the routine down. We learned that one of the ribbons was a tie. Then they announced that the bronze medal was a tie, and "Lindsey" was one of the recipients. Well, apparently there were two Lindseys on stage. I'll just say it was a big mess from here but we eventually learned that our Lindsey had gotten bronze. After her rough second game, this was a huge accomplishment!
Next out was Tanya, and I could tell right away that she had gotten 8th place. Tanya is a true optimist, though, and she grinned ear-to-ear through the whole ceremony. Oh, each of the awards came with a small bouquet of flowers - a nice extra touch. Then was Tiffany, and she mouthed to me "Fourth" right away. I know she wanted that medal badly, but she handled it with grace. She is a true leader when it comes to sportsmanship.
Then the guys were up. Michael came out first, and he was in the middle of the line. My heart was racing as they got into position. I was pretty sure he was in the direct middle, but I didn't want to get too excited after the debacle with Lindsey. However, it turns out he DID get the gold! The down side to using a media credential is that I have to keep my tears under control so that I can take pictures.
Next up was Ryan, and it was the same game of quickly counting to see where he had placed. I figured he was getting the silver medal, which was what we had predicted. You could see the exact moment that the realization hit and his face lit up. He was all smiles as he waved to the audience.
Last out was Chris, and I was dying of suspense. We had wondered if the guy with the 700 series might be placed in a division of his own since he was so far above everyone else. If that was the case, I was pretty sure Chris would get gold. They filed onto the stage, and again there was some confusion, some shuffling around, and suddenly Chris was in the gold position. I nearly stood up and screamed, but I managed to contain myself. Because of the shuffle, it took Chris a minute to realize he had gotten gold. He's pretty reserved, so there was just a little smile as he looked down at the floor, but that smile spoke a thousand words to me. You could just see the pride in knowing what a huge accomplishment it was.
We hung around with the fans for a few minutes to take all the required pictures. Michael handed his flowers to Coach Bea, and she asked if he was sure he didn't want to give them to his mom. He said no, he wanted Coach Bea to have them. From someone who barely spoke to us during selection camp last June, this is huge. That's the thing about Coach Bea -- she can be tough, but she sure does earn the respect and love of her athletes.
Tonight our team went to the Trenton Thunder baseball game. Unfortunately, I got locked out of our room (not because I didn't have the key!) for the second day in a row and had to stay behind for the locksmith. That's a whole story in itself, but maybe for another day!
Tomorrow we'll have regulation and Unified doubles followed by Olympic Town.
Monday consisted of divisioning rounds at the bowling alley. All of Team Missouri bowled together for three games. That is the only time this will happen this week since it was just to set their averages.
Most everyone bowled right at or above their existing average, which is good news. Special Olympics has rules in place so that if you bowl way above your average during medal rounds, you can be disqualified because it would look like you purposely set a low average to try to win in a lower division. Of course Missouri would never do that, but it can be tricky when an athlete bowls the game of their life. With such a pumped-up atmosphere, that does happen.
In fact, Lindsey was on a roll today! Her first two games were about 50 pins above her average. In this case, we were actually worried that they might place her in a higher division and then she wouldn't be able to maintain that average throughout the week. She chilled out for the third game, though, so we think she will be okay. She did bowl a turkey!
CJ also had an exceptional beginning with eight strikes (five in a row!) in his first game and a total of 244. He also averaged out with his second and third games.
Chris bowled four strikes in a row. We learned that both Michael and Tanya need to have caffeine before they begin competition so that they are alert and on their game.
We had a little down time after we finished prelims, so we relaxed in our rooms. The girls all gathered in Tiffany and Lindsey's room for a movie. However, they had the sound muted, Tanya fell asleep and Lindsey was on her phone nearly the whole time. They were cracking us up because somehow in spite of all of that, they clearly bonded and were suddenly best friends by the time we went to dinner. They even brought ice cream over for our entire table!
Each evening has an assigned activity divided up by sport. The bowlers were all supposed to go to the Sport Showcase, which was watching Unified competition in either soccer or tennis. This worked out perfectly because Amanda wanted to see her roommate's game and I wanted to see Jeremie's. The tennis venue is really beautiful, and there's even stadium seating. I found out that Jeremie and Bobby had won all of their prelim games in the morning/afternoon and they were matched against Louisiana tonight. It was a pretty close game, but we won! This puts them into the gold medal game on Wednesday - woohoo!
While we were waiting for their game to start, John C. McGinley (Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs) came into the stands to watch. I happen to know his escort, Ryan, so I am pretty sure he was cheering for MO. Shaffer got him to take a picture with the bowling girls. I am normally behind the camera in these scenarios, but I got to sneak into this one! I also got a selfie with Eddie Barbanell from The Ringer. It was apparently the place to be tonight.
Tomorrow is singles competition and our first awards ceremony. Coach Bea and I will be running up and down the alley to cheer on all of our athletes. I can't wait!
Today was the first official day of the 2014 USA Games. Coach Bea and I started out early with a bowling coaches' meeting. We even got a sneak peek of the awards venue! It is going to be really cool.
The best part of my morning was running into my friend Nate at breakfast. I met Nate in 2009 at the World Winter Games in Idaho. He was my favorite athlete from those Games. He loves telling jokes and quoting his favorite TV shows. We share a love of pets, especially dogs. And also a love of funny videos. Anyway, he saw me before I saw him. He stopped in his tracks and threw up his hands. I ran over to him, where I received maybe the biggest hug of my life. I was so excited to see him! I knew he was going to be here (many of you may know him from our Facebook exchanges) but I wasn't sure when we would get to have a reunion. Hopefully I'll get to see him compete a little at some point.
Then we had a couple of hours before we had to get ready for the Opening Ceremony. Amanda helped the girls do their hair and makeup, which they really enjoyed.
We all headed to the bus hub and got onto the Missouri buses right away. Apparently we were a little too punctual, because we had to wait on them for over an hour! When we finally got moving, we saw that the police were giving us an escort down the Jersey Turnpike, shutting down all of the traffic for us. It was awesome.
We caught a glimpse of the NYC skyline toward the end of our trip. For many on our bus, it was the first time they had seen this in person. Jennifer from the aquatics team was in total awe, exclaiming that it was just beautiful.
Once we arrived at the Prudential Center, there were a ton of Mo Magic fans lining the streets. We exited the bus to another cheering crowd. I'm afraid we are going to come to expect to be cheered every time we exit a vehicle!
Then we went into the building and found our staging area. We had to wait a very long time, but as usual, we found ways to entertain ourselves. More pin trading, Show-Me cheers and even the wave helped us pass the time.
Of course, when we finally entered the arena, it did not disappoint. There was a huge line of law enforcement along with athletes from Team New Jersey to high-five us on our way in. The officers said we had the best uniforms yet! Our Loudmouth shorts are really a hit.
The ceremony was inspiring and fun as usual. Brooklyn Decker and Michael Carter Williams emceed. There were a lot of celebrity video messages. The National Anthem singer put a unique twist on it, which usually makes me cringe, but this was actually a really cool rock version that ended in fireworks. Several entertainers performed, my favorite of which was the cast of Wicked singing "Defying Gravity." A Unified soccer team brought in the Special Olympics flag.
Then it was time for the Torch Run, the highlight of any Opening Ceremony. Part of the cauldron came down from the rafters, and crews of volunteers brought in the pieces to assemble the rest of it on stage. That was a neat way to do it that I've never seen before. Then they sang the "Carry the Flame" song, and officers ran around the arena floor and up to the cauldron. They tipped the torch, the flame went up and then fireworks went off on stage! It is always a moment that gives me goosebumps.
I know I rushed through the ceremony itself, but I have a coaches' meeting in 10 minutes and a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call! Tomorrow is divisioning for the bowlers. Good night!
After a long two days of travel, Mo Magic has made it to New Jersey.
We started out Friday in St. Louis with a Send-Off at Washington University. Actor Bill Chott (he was in The Ringer) made Mo Magic come to life with a quick magic show. We had some delicious food, and then the teams paraded into an auditorium to the cheers of the fans in attendance. We watched a video that chronicles our training journey (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUQI9fwXSt8), heard from some guest speakers and worked on our team chant. Then we loaded onto buses and got a police escort to the hotel, which was really cool. Gotta love our friends in the Law Enforcement Torch Run!
Quote of the evening: SOMO CEO addressing the audience: "Remember, just because they said something last night, that doesn't mean it will happen today. Plans change." Coach Bea: "Did you hear that, Lindsey?"Lindsey: "I wasn't here last night."She is so literal. :)
Saturday morning started early. I am not a morning person. However, I did pop right out of bed when the alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. I went and checked on our athletes. The boys hadn't woken up yet, but the girls were fully dressed in their travel uniforms. We had told everyone to be ready at 5:30, but we got a call at 5:05 telling us to load everyone up right away. Luckily everyone had showered Friday night, so we were all on the bus by about 5:15. Just like Mark said, plans change.
Our first flight was from St. Louis to Atlanta. It was the first flight ever for Lindsey and Ryan. Ryan was a champ and rode like an experienced flyer. Lindsey was very nervous and worked herself up during takeoff. I switched seats with a nice lady who happens to be a Polar Plunger so that I could be with Lindsey, and she seemed to calm down a lot. We had Lindsey sit with Tiffany on the flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia, and she was like a totally different person! It must have just been that fear of the unknown.
When we got to the airport, we were greeted by a couple of volunteers who led us to the exit. When the doors opened, we were blasted with cheering from adoring fans! It was really a cool surprise and made us all feel like superstars. The National Guard was on hand to load up our bags because they freaking rock, so we got on the bus and headed to Rider University.
When we pulled onto campus, we caught a glimpse of the Torch Run. I wish we had been off the bus so we could have cheered for them. However, when we got off the bus, there was an entire marching band and a whole slew of volunteers cheering for us again. The welcome to New Jersey is like nothing I've ever experienced before. I am so impressed with their hospitality and excitement.
We found our dorms, had a couple of meetings and got dinner in the dining hall. Some of our athletes started with one of the favorite activities, pin trading. Most of us are calling it a night early since this is one of the only chances we'll get to rest up. Tomorrow is the Opening Ceremony, and I hear Team MO will have the best uniforms!
It's hard to believe that this team has been together for less than a full year. After all of the hard work, training and traveling across the state, all of Team Missouri is finally together, and we're ready for the Games!
I am the sport manager for bowling, so most of my blog posts will talk about the bowlers. Let me tell you a little about each of them:
Tiffany is the caregiver of the group. She is always checking on everyone to make sure they're okay and having a good time.
Ryan is the goofball. For example, he wore a girl's prom dress at an event at his high school to raise money for his trip!
Tanya is the most affectionate one. She has a smile and a hug ready every time I see her.
Chris is a little reserved, but he has opened up so much. He used to keep to himself, but now his face lights up when he sees his team members.
Lindsey's excitement for the Games has grown week by week. She is a stickler for detail and keeps us on schedule!
Michael has probably seen the most growth throughout this year. When we first met him, he would barely talk, but now he knows all of his teammates' names, and he carries on conversations with the group.
We also have two Unified Partners, Amanda and CJ. Unified Partners are volunteers who compete alongside our athletes. They are also a huge help to Coach Bea and myself!
"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."