One Coach’s Experience at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games

Special Olympics World Games is an extraordinary event that brings together athletes with intellectual disabilities from all corners of the globe. It is a celebration of resilience, determination, and the power of inclusion.

I will always remember the day I received my invitation to attend the 2023 World Games in Berlin as a Powerlifting Technical Official. I had many expectations going into this event, but I had no idea it would be a life-changing experience, filled with unforgettable moments of triumph and unity. In this blog post, I want to share my incredible adventure and highlight the significance of this event for both the athletes and the spectators.

The Games

World Games is a unique platform that transcends boundaries and brings people together, irrespective of their differences. The event showcases the exceptional abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities, challenging societal stereotypes and promoting inclusivity. Witnessing competitors from 176 countries compete with unwavering spirit is an awe-inspiring testament to the power of sports as a unifying force.

The atmosphere at the powerlifting venue was electric. As I entered the arena on my first day, I was greeted with an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm and excitement. The athletes’ determination, grit, and passion were truly remarkable and could be seen from day one in the warmup room.

The Competition

My first three days were devoted to meeting the athletes, forging relationships, and helping them prepare for the platform. I was the Platform Manager for the event, so that means I spotted each lifter and notified the loaders what weight needed to be on the bar. I wanted the athletes to see a friendly face when they mounted the stage for the first time, so I greeted each of them before their lifts.

So many amazing moments stand out, but none more so than the athlete from Iceland, Aegir Olafsson. When I first met him, he was sitting in his wheelchair next to a warmup platform. I have been involved with Special Olympics New York’s powerlifting program for more than five years and have seen some truly remarkable athletes. I had no doubt he was going to do great, but I had no idea how inspiring he would be to not only me, but the world.

For his first squat attempt, Aegir wheeled up to the platform, where his coach helped him out of his chair and assisted him at the bar. Once he was set, I stepped in to provide a back spot, while two other volunteers provided side spots (we are very proactive in order to prevent injuries). The judge gave Aegir the start command and down he went, with the crowd going crazy he went as low as he could and stood back up!

Unfortunately, the lift was marked invalid because he didn’t go deep enough. I said, “That’s okay! You’ll get it next time!”

…And next time, he did! It was already a fantastic meet, and there was still one attempt to go: The Deadlift.

Aegir once again approached the platform with his coach. The coach asked me to keep a close watch on Aegir’s balance, so I kept a hand in front of his chest and behind his back, in case he fell over. The crowd was going wild as Aegir started to pull, giving it everything he had, lifting the bar to his knees before he just couldn’t pull anymore. He dropped the weight and fell back into my arms, where I gently lowered him down onto the floor.

Despite that, he had the biggest smile on his face. You would never have known he’d just missed a lift.

These moments of success and failure inspire and remind us that with dedication and support, anyone can overcome challenges and achieve their dreams.

How You Can Get Involved

Attending World Games was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget. The event highlighted the power of unity, inclusion, and the unbeatable human spirit. It served as a reminder that by embracing diversity and providing equal opportunities, we can create a more inclusive and compassionate world.

I left the Games inspired, carrying the memories of extraordinary athletes who continue to defy odds and make an indelible mark on the world. I can’t wait for the next one in four years!

I owe this experience to making the decision to coach for Special Olympics New York over five years ago. Watching so many amazing athletes grow not only physically but mentally has been such an incredible gift.

If you have ever thought about joining the movement, stop thinking and do it! Sign up to coach, volunteer, or compete…and thank me later!