During breakfast, local Kindergarten children came to send us off. They sang, danced and presented us with a beautiful banner they made wishing us well. Their sweet voices filled the room with joy and hope! It was a perfect beginning to the day. Afterwards, we gathered the team and started to put stickers on the helmets and sticks.
We are so grateful to our teammates from California, especially Coach Rodney for helping us size the helmets. We then got ready to visit the venue. The ride was about 15 minutes from our hotel. The contrast between the suburban feel of our hotel and the venue location which is clearly more urban was noticed. We saw shopping malls, the golden arches and lots of billboards announcing the Special Olympics Winter World Games. It was really exciting to have the athletes notice them everywhere!
Upon arrival, we were escorted to the dining area for all delegations. Then we got our first glimpse at other teams. First was Chinese Taipei.Some members of our team approached them to say hello or Ni hao! As an observer, it was definitely a great moment to witness. While we are committed to playing our best, part of the experience is also about making connections, building awareness about Unified sports and Special Olympics in general and being honorable representatives of our country. We made it over to the floor hockey arena and saw that 3 rinks were set up. It looked like the United Arab Emirates were almost done practising so we geared up and jumped in to start our own practice. It felt great to get in a good 40 minute workout!
We also scrimmaged the traditional FH team from California. It was great to hear both teams compliment each other as they maneuvered the puck around. We were also approached by Melissa from ESPN whom we met in Vermont. She was genuinely happy to see us and spoke with a few of the athletes. We realized that there was no real organization to get rink time so we sat for a few minutes and then started to move from rink to rink to catch 30 minutes here and there. We were approached by several local and international TV and radio outlets.
We also met athletes from the United Arab Emirates, Uganda (pictured below), Bangladesh, Canada and Chinese Taipei.We’re not sure if any of these are Unified FH teams and it didn’t matter. In that moment, athletes just wanted to say hi and connect to one another. After a few more rounds of practice and scrimmages at all 3 rinks to get a feel for the spacing, etc. we called it a day and come back to the hotel for 2 hours of rest. One aspect of this experience so far that’s been really significant for me is that just a few years ago, some of the participating nations didn’t acknowledge or provide opportunities for people with disabilities. Now, not only are the athletes representatives for these very countries, they are serving as models for the world to embrace. This is progress; this represents hope; this means everything.
Unified Floor Hockey Goalie, Malik, introduces himself to the athletes from Chinese Taipei and Uganda.