The magic of Special Olympics starts even before the first competition or ceremony. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend an entire day at the Delegation Welcome Center in Athens, greeting dozens of teams of athletes and coaches as they arrived in Greece. For the delegations, this marks the beginning of their World Games experience. The atmosphere was thriving and full of excitement. Droves of Greek volunteer greeters cheered as athletes came off the planes, hundreds at a time arriving from all over the world– Argentina to Burkina Faso to New Zealand to Morocco. There were games, music and dancing. There was even a nail salon where athletes were getting their nails painted with the fighting colors of their teams!
There, I met an athlete named Shereen Nina Gordon from Jamaica who will be competing in Bocce. After she proudly showed me her new yellow nails to match her yellow jersey, she paraded back to her team where she introduced me to one of the great Jamaica football coaches, Lennox Christie. Lennox has been a Special Olympics coach for over 20 years in Jamaica. These are his second World Games, having coached a team in Ireland in 2003. Lennox will be coaching Jamaica’s inaugural full, 11-a-side football team during the Games. He spoke about the commitment of the team and the intense training over the past year to get them ready for Greece. He made a point to mention that the footballers themselves chose the challenge of doing full 11-a-side and had made the commitment to train to prepare.
I caught my two daughters, Perry and Sandy, line dancing with the delegation from Costa Rica. There, they introduced me to Carolina Mora, a gymnastics coach and one of her star athletes, Alejandra Duerte. Carolina has been a dedicated coach for 28 years!
As I was leaving the complex, the team from Côte d’Ivoire arrived, tired but excited. Despite a civil war in their home country, changes in government, visa problems, and insufficient funds to make the long journey, the entire delegation of 20 arrived safely in Athens. They were proud and so thankful to the countless people from the Greek GOC and Special Olympics International who made their trip possible. The Special Olympics Family works for all in all situations. I went back to hotel re-inspired of the daily magic of Special Olympics!