24 HOURS IN THE LIFE OF A SPECIAL OLYMPICS USA NATIONAL GAMES VOLUNTEER
Learn the ins and outs of working at my Wednesday afternoon assignment: the Delegation Services desk, which includes answering just about every random question in the book. Do I have a copy of the results from the day’s volleyball games? Where does one register for Kurt Warner’s Punt, Pass, and Kick Clinic? Where is everyone getting those neat posters and lapel pins? Which CyRide route will take me to west Ames?
Time to compile the orders for Thursday’s sack lunches. For those athletes who can’t come back to their dining centers for a noon meal, the sack lunches are an absolute must.
Wash my hands. Again. Everyone who’s been through the Delegation Services area has been buzzing about the flu bug that’s going around; you can never be too careful. And while I don’t want to get it myself, I certainly don’t want to spread it to any athletes who still have to compete. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Receive a Special Olympics bracelet inscribed with the Special Olympics motto: “Let me win, but, if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” One quickly learns that, at these National Games, this motto doesn’t just mean something sugary about winning and losing being unimportant. It means, “I want to win, and darn it, I’m going to give my all to do so!”
The heads of the state delegations begin gathering in our area for their nightly meeting. They’re picking up mail, which includes everything from results sheets
to sack lunch receipts to organizational memos and packages from home. The volume of paper being shuf-fled about – and, for the most part, not lost – amazes me.
Get a surprise visit at our desk from Kansas’ Blake Docking, who was proud to show off the gold medal he had won earlier in the day in golf.
Try to help out in the face of a minor food emergency: The gymnastics competition has run two hours late, and the athletes missed dinner. ISU Dining comes to the rescue with piping hot pizzas, served at the Memorial Union to hungry gymnasts who want to gobble it up quickly and get the heck over to the dance at Olympic Town (the Memorial Union’s Great Hall), from where I can already feel the pulse of kar-
Meet Team New York basketball player John DeLisa, who asks me what it is we Iowans do for fun, anyway. I tell him we might not have as much exciting stuff as New York does, but we are the only place that’s ever had the Special Olympics National Games! He can’t argue with that one.
It’s getting late. Athletes are filing out of the Union and heading back to their residence halls for the night. I’m knitting and eating a brownie I don’t need. Time to go home and get some sleep…and get rested for tomorrow morning!
Leave my Des Moines home with my mother Deborah, a volunteer from Waterloo, following in the car behind me. We are on our way to serve as Thursday’s “rest-
room attendants” at the bocce venue – the Lied Recreation Athletic Center. We are hoping our assignment doesn’t mean we have to scrub toilets.
Have breakfast in (where else?) a strategically out-
fitted Lied Recreation Center racquetball court with fellow volunteers Jennifer, a special education teacher from Des Moines, and Margaret from Carroll, who has been “promoted” from restroom attendant to scorekeeper for bocce and is a little nervous because she’s “not good with numbers.” But Mom and I know Margaret is going to have a blast. In bocce, you only have to be able to count to 16.
Learn that the primary responsibilities of a restroom attendant are making sure athletes find the correct restrooms and alerting the Lied Recreation Center staff when paper towels need to be replaced or trash emptied. It’s a pretty easy gig. Heck, the main thing you get to do as a restroom attendant is meet and greet the athletes!
Meet Mike Wilkins, a double-medalist in powerlifting from Arkansas who has been competing in Special Olympics since sustaining head injuries in a car accident several years ago. Mike even competed at the World Games in Dublin, Ireland, in 2003. He’s a huge Arkansas Razorbacks fan, but he says he’s familiar with the Cyclones, too. He completely and totally charms us both.
Meet the Utah bocce team, who came over to tell us the good news: They came back from a 14-1 deficit to win their game and advance to the medal rounds. It’s high fives and hugs all around for this amazing foursome.
Have lunch with Angie, a fellow volunteer who says she’s learned a few things about bocce in her last two days at the venue. She says she had never realized how much strategy goes into winning the game.
Chat with Southern California soccer player Mark Green, who reveals that his favorite state is Texas because it’s the home of his cousin, who is bravely serving in Iraq.
With the restroom attendant duties being covered by “floaters,” Mom and I decide to take a walk around and see how else we can help out, the main options being either in “Bocce Town,” the staging area for the venue, or as “Fans in the Stands.” We end up in the stands, cheering on teams from New York, Colorado, New Jersey, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Ohio, Louisiana, and Arizona. The Special Olympics USA National Games used more than 2,000 volunteers in this capacity throughout the week. Hey, it’s quite the job if you can find it.
For the first time in two days, I feel fully qualified to do my volunteer work. Making noise is perhaps my greatest skill. Go, Indiana! Go, Mississippi! Go, USA!
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About the Writer | Kate Bruns is the associate editor of VISIONS magazine.