“It’s a Wonderful Winning World”

Our third blog entry from a National Youth Activation Committee (YAC) member comes from Courtney Neil of Massachusetts. Courtney along with her sister, Alyssa Neil, has been a part of the National YAC since its inception in the Fall of 2008. Courtney recently attended the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece where she was a ‘Fan in the Stands’ for her sister, Alyssa. Here is what Courtney wrote about her experience in Greece:

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Athens, Greece is more than a city filled with beautiful scenery and vast history, it’s a city that opened its doors to a world where anything can happen; a world that is accepting, inclusive, and truly the best place to be.  From June 26-July 4, this monumental city hosted the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

The first thing I noticed in the city when I arrived was its beauty. The city was something I’ve only seen in pictures and it was an incredible sight to see.  The next thing I noticed was, I had never met so many friendly people, who would do anything to make me and my family feel welcome.  It was so heart-warming to feel like I belonged there, and not just intruding in their home.  It was the perfect setting for these monumental Games.

I have been with Special Olympics since I was 11 years old, competing alongside my sister Alyssa who has an intellectual disability. We have always played together, as a team, standing alongside each other, and being there if we needed someone to pick up the slack.  This past September was when we got the news that she had been chosen to represent the United States of America in Athletics.  This was the first time she would be on her own, showing what she had to offer the world and I couldn’t be more proud. Instead of standing behind her and supporting her, I was on the sidelines, watching my sister be the star she’s always been.

She was so amazing on that track, and she did such an amazing job that I cried every single time she ran overcome with happiness that she had done it on her own and all her hard work and training had paid off.  She wasn’t the only star on that field though; every single athlete that step foot on that track gave their all and exemplified the meaning of the Special Olympics.  One of my favorite races was a 100m Dash.  A boy who spent most of his day confined to a wheel chair stood up to stand alongside his competitors, and the race began.  He ran his race, it didn’t matter that the others were faster; he was going to do his best and finish that race.  Everyone in the stands started clapping in unison, and cheering and chanting, fans from America, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, Ecuador, and fans from everywhere, volunteers, and officials were cheering this athlete on.  It was so moving to see how enthusiastic all these people, from all these different backgrounds came together to support this athlete in his race.  The best moment was when he finished his race.  He threw his arms over his head, jumping, waving and smiling as he was getting situated back in his chair, and the crowd erupted with applause and rose to their feet jumping with him, celebrating his victory.  It was so wonderful to see all these people come together to support someone in their dream.  The funny thing was: I didn’t expect anything less from this amazing group of people.

I am so proud to be a part from such an incredible group of individuals.  I have immersed myself fully in this wonderful organization and have never been more proud to declare myself as a Unified Partner for the Special Olympics. Seeing so many others who commit themselves to the values and ideals of this organization, only gives me that much more confidence that I am doing something right and I will continue to fight for the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and most importantly cheer them on!

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Fans in the Stands- Athens, Greece

Our second blog entry from a National Youth Activation Committee (YAC) member comes from Emily Reyes of Missouri. Emily is a member of Special Olympics Missouri’s YAC and has been a part of the National YAC since its inception in the Fall of 2008. Emily recently attended the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece where she was a ‘Fan in the Stands’. Here is what Emily wrote about her experience in Greece:

Hey! This is Emily Reyes from Missouri. I am a member of the Missouri and National Youth Activation Committee. This summer I was able to attend the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. They were a blast!

Thousands of people from across the world came to be Fans in the Stands! Flags were waving in the air and the names of the athletes and countries were being chanted. That was just some of the things that you saw or heard when you stepped inside the venues.

I was able to watch the Team USA softball team play for gold! The USA gymnastics team were already there cheering when we got there. They let us borrow some of their fan wear and join them with all the dancing they were doing. They would cheer for the Team USA players and dance between the innings. During the song the YMCA one of the athletes changed up the words from “It’s fun to stay at the YMCA.” to “It’s fun to be part of TEAM USA.” I didn’t think that I could get goose bumps in 90 degree weather, but I do now.

At the aquatics venue the Fans in the Stands were pretty intense. As each country swam their fans would cheer their athletes on. I know that when the Team USA athletes hit the water their fans were on their feet cheering.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games were a sight to see! It didn’t matter where you were from, a smile was a smile, a laugh was a laugh, and Fans in the Stands were Fans in the Stands! I was proud to be a Fan in the Stand!

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Welcome!

Welcome to the Special Olympics Project UNIFY blog where youth leaders with and without intellectual disabilities will share their experiences as they advocate for inclusion, respect and acceptance in schools across the United States.

Our first blogging adventure will follow the 10 U.S.-based youth who are attending the Global Youth Activation Summit, as part of the Special Olympics World Summer Games Athens 2011. They’ll share photos, videos, stories and more as they engage with youth leaders from around the world.  

So bookmark us, toss us in your RSS reader, sign up for email updates, or just come back here as often as you can to stay up to date with everything that’s happening. With these amazing youth leaders, there’s always something new and exciting to read about!