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Bringing Home The Gold This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I am easily persuaded, so when my friend Tina asked me to volunteer with her for a weekend at the Unified Special Olympics, I couldn't refuse. This is an event at which both special athletes with disabilities and non-athletes, like me, compete together on teams. Tina had been a Special Olympics swimming coach for years, and convinced me that I would have the time of my life. I was skeptical, but even if I didn't have a good time, I would still be doing something worthwhile during an otherwise uneventful weekend.

The event took place at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I drove up with everyone on my team in a cramped YMCA bus. Needless to say, I was already having doubts about the weekend. Sitting next to me was Brian, a twenty-five-year-old Olympian. He had the capabilities of a six-year-old, but an incredible personality. He constantly wanted attention, and would do anything to get it. Brian knew every song on the radio and was not too shy to sing them. I could not resist singing along with him. Brian also made random comparisons like "Jessica, do you know what ... you remind me of Whitney Houston because of how you wear your hair. And you remind me of my friend Danny because he has long hair, too." He could talk about the same thing for hours, and he did. I had to laugh because he said and did the most aimless, yet funny things. By the end of the ride I was realizing that Tina was right, I was already having a blast.

Throughout the weekend I was responsible for assisting the athletes with whatever they needed. I helped get snacks and drinks. I took athletes to the bathroom. I helped them get dressed in the morning and at night. The athletes were independent, and only occasionally needed reminders or supervision.

The weekend started with opening ceremonies and then a crash course in learning the game of Bocci, the first sport that we were participating in. None of the athletes or non-athletes knew how to play, but everyone picked up the general idea quickly. I was learning about each athlete's different disabilities. Many did not have complete control over their communication skills, but they were remarkably perceptive. I had never realized how challenging their lives were.

The next morning the team headed over to the Bocci courts to compete. I soon realized that I was a horrible Bocci player, but my special partner, Val, really had the hang of it, and we ended up with a bronze medal. Val is an extremely shy person who is not very verbal. Despite the obstacles, though, Val and I still managed to become good buddies.

Sunday was swimming competition, and it was the day that I had looked forward to the most. I was swimming in three relays with two athletes and one non-athlete. I was not only nervous for myself, but for the athletes, too.

Sometimes the athletes would forget to put their heads down, or do a flip turn at the wall. Everyone would cheer the athletes, reminding them what to do. I have never been to a meet where people have tried so hard or cheered so loud. The entire event was emotional. Athletes were breaking records left and right and our team was winning many of the races. I was so proud to have been a part of the excitement and the accomplishments.

At the medal ceremonies my relays won a gold, a silver, and a fourth place ribbon. I could tell that the athletes were thrilled to be on the platforms receiving their medals. I will remember their expressions forever. It was the best volunteer experience that I had ever had. Not only did I walk away with three medals, but I walked away knowing that I helped make someone's weekend more special. fl


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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