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Taylor Jacobs: How the Special Olympics made me fall in love with sports again

Jul 3, 2018, 11:22 PM

At the first Special Olympics eSports event, the emotions were inspiring. (Photo: Taylor Jacobs)...

At the first Special Olympics eSports event, the emotions were inspiring. (Photo: Taylor Jacobs)

(Photo: Taylor Jacobs)

The Special Olympics are underway, and more than 3,500 athletes have arrived in the greater Seattle area to compete in the USA games with the hopes of going on to compete in the World Championships next year.

It has been 50 years since the first Special Olympics took place in July 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago. This year, Seattle received a chance to honor the history of the event. What started as a dream by Eunice Kennedy Shriver has now become an inspiration for many people around the world.

For me, after volunteering the past two days at the games, I can say that I have fallen in love with sports all over again.

Sunday morning, my wife and I rode our bikes over to UW for what we thought would be a great day of volunteering. We had no idea what to expect as we stood in the cheer line at 9 a.m. waiting for the athletes to arrive. Volunteers lined the walkways throughout campus to cheer for the athletes as they walked to the stadium for the opening ceremonies.

As the first team started to walk by, one thing jumped out at me instantly: the joy on the faces of the athletes.

The athletes were giving out high fives, singing with their teammates, dancing with volunteers, all while proudly representing the states where they live. The parents, most of whom were overwhelmed with pride for their athlete and what they have accomplished to get here, had tears of joy in their eyes as they thanked those who had shown up to support them and their families. Each state walked through the line to thunderous cheers and applause.

As the teams continued filing through, I kept getting overwhelmed by how inclusive this group is. It does not matter where you are from, what you look like, what your politics are, or who your favorite sports teams are. All that matters is the chance – the chance to compete.

The Special Olympics motto is, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” It perfectly sums up the attitude instilled in every athlete who competes. In a sports world where results have become more and more important, watching a group of athletes who simply care about the opportunity refreshed my soul. We want our teams to be best, to compete for titles and to do it year in and year out.

At the Special Olympics, as cliché as it may sound, every athlete is a winner. They have won at a game bigger than any sport: life.

The opening ceremonies were a star-studded event that truly highlighted everything Seattle and the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Whether it was Walter Jones or Gary Payton introducing athletes, coaches and referees, or Allen Stone jamming out with the entire crowd, the athletes remained the brightest stars on the stage. I found myself overwhelmed with emotion as the ceremony continued and more people told their inspirational stories.

Sports can be such a powerful tool and at the Special Olympics, it showed me what can be in our world outside of sports. It can be compassionate, it can be love, it can be inspiring. And through events like the Special Olympics, it can be ours.

The games themselves are not to be overlooked, either. While watching the Florida vs. Maryland basketball matchup Monday, it became clear that these are truly some of the best athletes in the world. Watching the teams battle for rebounds, play tough defense, make 3-pointers and pass the ball around with ease, I found myself captivated by the action on the court.

These athletes earned their chance to represent their state with pride and every single one of them achieved that, results aside. In addition, even the “small” moments we take for granted in a game like completing a pass can be moments that shape these people for the rest of their lives. Watching one of the football players complete a pass for his initial first down of the day, you could see how special it was to achieve.

At the first Special Olympics eSports event, the emotions continued to inspire. In an industry that has seen major growth over the past few years, these athletes join a group of gamers who are blazing a new trail in the sport of competitive matches that take place on a digital gridiron. Athletes competed on Xbox in the racing simulation game Forza 7. After a long grind, Team Dempsey from Special Olympics Washington came out victorious. As the host asked one of the racers what it meant to be the first athlete to win an eSports title at the Special Olympics, he, like me, became overwhelmed by the moment. He finally said one word and it perfectly sums up my experience over the past two days: “Speechless.”

I am forever thankful for all the athletes, their families and all the volunteers at the Special Olympics for what they have done for me the past two days. I will never be able to thank them all personally, but I can promise them that I will be active wherever I can be.

The week is not over and you can still help support these athletes, too. Head to www.SpecialOlympics.org to find a schedule of events that you can attend. I highly recommend taking some time this week to get to UW and see some of the matches in person. I know you will leave inspired and with a deeper appreciation for sports. And if you can’t make it over to UW this week, Special Olympics Washington is always looking for help year-round.

I hope to see you at an event soon. Let us be brave in our attempt.

Taylor Jacobs is an Audience Engagement Specialist, Producer and Social Media Manager for 710 ESPN Seattle. He is also co-host of the eSports podcast The Joystick Club.

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Taylor Jacobs: How the Special Olympics made me fall in love with sports again