“Missouri is one of the best states to be involved with the Special Olympics. It’s very well organized. The USA Games usually take place over July 4th weekend. That process starts a year prior with something we call ‘selection camp’. We have athletes from all over the state- coaches and partners and all- that come in, and we are at sports camp for a week. The purpose of that sports camp is to see how coaches interact with athletes, and see which athletes can handle being away from their family for a week. We start every morning at 5, 5:30. We walk around the track. We try to get a mile in. When we go to the USA games, you are walking to the venues and you might have to walk back to your dorm and all that. If they can’t handle the physicality, it hurts their chances of going. We are looking at a lot of different things that whole week. We try to take as many as we can. Especially ones that haven’t been before. It’s a great opportunity.
“The athletes make friends from every other state and each state has a pin, so they trade pins all through the week. They try to get all 50 of them. It’s really something to be a part of, to experience. At the end of the week, we have the closing ceremonies, and people trade jerseys, hats, towels and whatever else with your state name on it. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with two of them [USA Games], and each time they’ve been pretty incredible. The athletes really like hugs. They are really good with names and faces.
“I always tell people that these are the real athletes, the real role models that we need to be trying to imitate. I’m not saying all pro athletes are bad or anything like that. Our Special Olympic athletes, they play the game for all the right reasons. They have great sportsmanship and they just purely enjoy competing. There is a lot we can learn from them.”