A week like the one Special Olympics Southern California athletes, Unified partners, coaches and staff experienced at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle creates a lifetime of memories. In fact, it’s difficult to narrow down the defining moments in a simple list but let’s give it a shot.
The Action and Intensity
Special Olympics is ultimately a sports organization and Team SOSC produced some of the more riveting moments on the court, on the field and in the pool.
The softball gold medal game and Unified soccer bronze medal match featuring SOSC teams were unfolding at the same time, at locations separated by about 30 minutes.
Team SOSC battled through injury and double-overtime before Unified partner Samuel Zamora Jr. clinched the bronze with 30 seconds remaining. Meanwhile, the softball team cut a 15-7 deficit down to 3 before ultimately falling to Ohio, 19-13.
The following day, it was the swim venue in Federal Way that closed out USA Games, and it was exciting down to the final race. Jonathan Pierce, Steven Espinoza, Lisa Koskovich and Christina Principe moved from fourth to the silver medal on Jonny’s final leg of the 4×100-meter relay.
That softball game delivered on a number of fronts, and two moments in particular stood out above the rest.
As Team SOSC started to realize its fate would be the silver and not the gold medal, players Bryan Gordon, Matthew Lawrence and Dustin Plunkett made sure the rest of their teammates understood the magnitude of what they were about to accomplish.
They were not about to let their moment be remembered for missing out on the gold, but instead being in a position that any other Special Olympics softball team in the country would love to be in.
As both teams exchanged handshakes, the grind of an emotionally charged game led to mutual respect and a number of warm hugs in the handshake line.
— Special Olympics SoCal (@SOSoCal) July 6, 2018
The 66 athletes of Team SOSC did not just bond with one another, but they enjoyed the company of athletes from around the country. One team, in particular, was the Unified soccer group and its bond with Team Arizona.
An ‘Awesome’ Opening
Team SOSC quickly learned just how big of a production USA Games would be. More than 39,000 people gathered at University of Washington’s Husky Stadium to kick off the Games.
One Team SOSC member felt the energy of the crowd before the rest of the delegation. Prior to the Parade of Athletes, women’s basketball player Angela Zhu and three other athletes from around the country joined actor Taye Diggs on stage to address the crowd.
A VIP Welcome
Team SOSC got a taste of the pageantry the moment it stepped off the plane and arrived in Seattle on June 30.
The guest of honor was swimmer Nicolette Jones, who was greeted by United Airlines officials and shown the ad campaign featuring her likeness as superhero Lane Lightning.
Welcome to Seattle, Special Olympics athletes. Special Olympics Southern California athlete Nikki Jones got to see herself as Lane Lightning in person for the first time! Good luck at the #2018USAGames! https://t.co/gaT3pbVWSV #InclusionRevolution #ChooseToInclude pic.twitter.com/aW1Vm0px5r
— United Airlines (@united) July 2, 2018
Priscilla Price and Eloisa Pichon attended forums, shadowed staff members, and more, as part of the Youth Leadership Experience. The Trabuco Hills High School students even got to meet Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver.
Random Act of Kindness
Santa Clarita track and field athlete Ashlee Bahr put together handmade cards, giving them to flight attendants and various others she met along the way throughout the trip.
There were plenty of celebrity guests walking around Seattle over the week, as Opening Ceremonies and various Unified Sports Experience opportunities made it easy to run into a few.
Track athlete Brett Laza met up with former Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno, while golfers Kyle Aragon, Kent Menendez and Kyle Aragon spotted PGA Tour star Jordan Spieth.