Photo credits: Freddie B. Photographyâ„˘ (Copyright 2017)
It's almost here...the worldâ€™s largest sports and humanitarian event. An event that will inspire and "move" people in ways and to the depth seldom experienced. An event to be attended by thousands and that will be watched by people from all across the globe: the Special Olympic World Winter Games Austria 2017.
From March 18th to March 25th, the country of Austria will be hosting the Special Olympic World Winter Games 2017 with over 2700 Special Olympic athletes and 1000 coaches from 170
countries in attendance along with 10,000 volunteers. Witnessing these inspirational examples of courage, accomplishment, and determination will be thousands in attendance with countless numbers watching from their television sets from homes all across the world. These athletes will be competing in Alpine Skiing, Cross Country Skiing, Figure Skating, Speed Skating, Floor Hockey, Floorball, Snowboarding, Snowshoeing, and Stick Shooting at locations in Schladming-Rohrmoos, Graz and Ramsau and will be televised via ESPN with live coverage of the opening ceremonies.
The Special Olympics was born in the 1950s and early 1960s when Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, saw how unjustly and unfairly people with intellectual disabilities were treated. Upon realizing that many children with intellectual disabilities didnâ€™t even have a place to play, she decided to take action and thus, the Special Olympics was born. In July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois when 1000 individuals with intellectual disabilities from 26 states and Canada competed in track & field and swimming. Currently, there are nearly 200 million people worldwide with intellectual disabilities and the Special Olympics serves 5.3 million athletes and Unified Partners (people without intellectual disabilities) in 169 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 108,000 competitions throughout the year.
My beginning with the Special Olympics began in early 2015 when I had the priviledge and honor of being asked by correspondant Robin "Flutterby" Borakove to partner with her in covering the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles as a media photographer for Specialneeds.com - a first for me photographing any Special Olympic events. Shortly thereafter, I was diagnosed with high functioning Austism (commonly referred to as Asperger's Syndrome), which made my coverage of the games that much more special and near to my heart. My participation in the Special Olympic World Games Los Angeles 2015 set me on a path destined to cover many other regional special olympic events as a newly credentialed photojounalist for Specialneeds.com. Mary Potter, the owner and publisher of Specialneeds.com and it's parent division, Family Magazine, expressed such faith and belief in me as a photojournalist for Specialneeds.com that it had a profound impact on the belief I had in myself and in my abilities, which led me to this point: covering the Special Olympics World Games Austria 2017.
I arrived in Austria on March 3rd to establish my base of operations in the small town of Judendorf along the bank of the Mur River in the Austrian state of Styria, just northwest of Graz
where some of the Special Olympic events will take place. Judendorf, meaning Jewish city, is a quaint community with a nearby paper mill having a towering chimney billowing plumes of steam from the milling process, cozy homes situated in orderly and clean residential areas, and most prominent, the fourteenth century Gothic Pilgrimage Church Maria StraĂźengel that sits atop a hill overlooking the town and commands to all passing by, "look at me"...a truly breathtaking sight.
Unlike the larger cities of Austria, very few of the residents of Judendorf speak English, making it a challenge for anyone who speaks not a word of German to manage. For someone like me, who speaks and understands a little German and desires to be more proficient, this is the ideal situation: total immesion into the German language. From the basement of a two-story home that was converted into a small apartment, and that will serve as my base of operations in the weeks to come, I have taken several leisurely walks into town since I began my stay and felt the sense of peace and tranquility wash over me - a much needed environment for someone with Aspergers, and in direct contrast to what is often experience in the hustle and bustle of Southern California.
From this place I already dread leaving, I hope to bring you stories and images that will inspire you, warm your
heart, and display to you beyond deniabilty the many examples of the sheer courage, accomplishment, and perservance of these most joyous athletes that will linger in your
heart, mind, and soul for weeks, if not years to come. If what I have witnessed firsthand of the special olympic events I attended thus far is any indication of what is to come, then I have
no doubt I will find success in accomplishing this task at hand.