When I was in college, I always heard people on campus talking about the Special Olympics. Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) was and still is a big deal at Central Michigan University because its headquarters is located on campus. Students, faculty, and community members are excited year-round for the different fundraising events such as the Polar Plunge and for the Summer Games which are held on the university’s campus. I never understood the hype until I actually researched SOMI and realized how awesome the organization is. Because I was so impressed, I decided to dedicate a fundraiser I had created to them. The fundraiser was a zombie survival game called Survive Mount Pleasant. It felt good to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics, but the experience with the fundraiser didn’t even compare to the experience of actually volunteering for the Summer Games.
I had no idea what to expect when the weekend of the Games came around. I had an idea of what occurred at the event, but I never witnessed it firsthand. As a volunteer I was assigned to the opening ceremony and bocce ball. The morning of the opening ceremony I was given a t-shirt and a large sign with a number on it. Each number represented a team from a different part of the state. After about 30 volunteers were lined up according to number on the practice football field, the athletes started to come onto the field looking for their team number.
The atmosphere on that practice football field gave me chills. As music played, the athletes excitedly ran around trying to find their team leaders. Many of these team leaders were members of the CMU football team. The SOMI athletes tried to get autographs from the players, but the football players insisted that they wanted the SOMI athletes’ autograph instead.
After my team found me, we became instant friends. They wanted to talk about everything from what I was going to school for to the Steelers’ defense. I was immediately humbled by the pure joy and excitement displayed by the athletes. These people, I thought, have spent their entire lives dealing with physical and mental challenges and here they are happier than anyone I’ve ever met before.
As the opening ceremony progressed, we led the athletes into Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The entire walk there (about 1/8th of a mile) was lined with police officers, military personnel, firemen, and hundreds of spectators. Each of these people were clapping and high fiving the athletes, giving me goosebumps in the process. The opening ceremony was capped off with a few speeches and live band performance.
The next day was the bocce tournament event. Weather-wise, the day was miserable. It was freezing and the rain was coming down hard. I was not happy about being out in the rain all day and I assumed that everyone else felt the same. Boy was I wrong. The athletes were more than happy to be playing in the cold and rain. Their energy radiated to all of us, lifting the spirits of all involved.
Two things really struck me during my time as a volunteer. One of these being the unfaltering excitement and joy of the athletes. These people, as previously mentioned, have had a life full of challenges but their outlook and demeanor stay tremendously positive. The other thing that struck me was the level of sportsmanship between the competitors. Competing athletes could constantly be found giving each other advice, cheering each other on, and congratulating each other regardless of the outcome.
So what did I learn from all of this? I learned how to appreciate the advantages that I have been given in this life being an able-bodied and able-minded person. I learned the importance of optimism and caring for those around me. Most importantly, I learned about the amazing people that compete in and run the Special Olympics.
At Quicken Loans we are surrounded by an atmosphere of volunteerism and are encouraged to volunteer when we can. I know for sure that I’ll be back in Mount Pleasant again, volunteering for the 2013 Summer Games which start May 30th.
If you would like to volunteer for Special Olympics or learn about upcoming events, please visit: www.specialolympics.org
This awesome organization also runs solely off of donations. You can now donate to Special Olympics by simply checking off a box while filling out your taxes. For more information on this simple way to donate, just follow this link: http://www.somi.org/x2813.xml
Has a volunteering experience impacted you in any way? Comment below and share with fellow Zing readers!