Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 SOPA Games: A break from athlete to coach

2 weeks ago, I spent the weekend at some holy grounds.  Kristen and I went to my alma mater, Penn State, as an assistant coach for our county's special olympics team.  It's possibly the first non-drinking-centric weekend I've spent there as an alumni.  And it was awesome.

Seeking a volunteering opportunity, Kristen stumbled across the local chapter of special olympics and go involved quickly, not too long after her, I joined.  Practices were a blast and the head coach was glad to have another athletic coach around to pace some of the distance runners.  I'd only coached a few practices before 19 athletes from the track and field team and a handful of coaches loaded up 6 buses to unite at Penn State with athletes from all over the state.
Hail to the Lion!
We arrived early Thursday with a loop around the football stadium, always breathtaking, even when empty.  We unloaded and navigated to our dorm rooms and prepared for the opening ceremony and the olympic village where there were about a dozen activities for the athletes to do or check out.  Our county, Montgomery, was towards the back of the procession so we took our time and joined the other sports teams from our county and we made our way into the baseball stadium for the opening ceremony, lighting the torch and invocation of the Special Olympics motto.  All quite touching to see the excitement at a beautiful venue with Mt. Nittany in the background.  A cool video about the torch being run from Pittsburgh to State College ended with state troopers escorting the final torch bearer into the stadium on motorcycles.

One of our great distance runners, David
The T&F team

One of the best baseball stadium views I've ever seen.

T&F team photo
I met SuePa!  Hugely involved in the Special Olympics!
Day one was finally over, back to the dorms and lights out at 10.  No bar trips for the coaches.  We were going to be up at 5:30 anyway for 6:00 breakfast.

Days at the track were pretty long.  There are a few thousand athletes, requiring multiple heats per event, and the heat and sun were intense.  I'll have a great farmer's tan the rest of the summer... cool!  We coaches took turns enjoying the shade in the tent and getting our athletes to their events and prepared to be awesome.  I'm incredibly proud of all of them, they all did a fantastic job, many of them obliterating their former personal bests by a long way.  Photo overload below!

David, game face on

Ron and me

Laura at running long jum




Team Wicked Fast sidewalk art

Alicia, collecting hardware
Sean, one of the fastest overall at the games, leading his heat
Chip, in the red shorts
Head coach Scott with Laura and coach Tina
Wicked fast sweep! David, Lior, and Trevor
4x100 relay awards, Trevor, Alicia, Sean, Alex
Sean and Queen
Chip- who has time to read?!
Richard and Rob
Downtime football
Team stretch before 400m dash
Friday night was the Victory Dance, hosted by a local radio station that was a pretty huge deal for the athletes.  Saturday was much like Friday: fun, just different events except for the 100m dash final.

The Special Olympics track team is now on break for a while, long distance running begins in August which I'm excited for and possibly may join with coaching triathlon, newly added to the games this year.  I suggest if you are looking for a place to volunteer some time, you check out your county's local Special Olympics group.  I was surprised how much fun it turned to be.  It's immensely rewarding to help others achieve and improve on any athletic endeavor.

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