Photo Credit: Freddie B. Photographyâ„˘
The Unified Sports Experience (USE) is a Special Olympics program that brings together Special Olympics athletes,
professional and Olympic athletes, dignitaries and celebrities on the same team in a one-day sports competition event as to, in part, to provide an inclusive and competitive experience. The USE stems from Unified Sports, which is a program that promotes social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences for individuals with and without intellectual disabilities with more than 1.2 million people throughout the world taking part in the program.
On Monday, March 20th, Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics, and his wife Linda Potter took to the hockey rink in the Graz convention center for their turn in a USE event - floor hockey. Dr. Shriver gave it his all, and on one occasion, after Dr. Shriver took a bold shot at the goal and sailed the puck in for the point, took an uninhibited victory jig - a professional hockey player he may not be, but you would never know by the sheer effort he put forth. Linda was no less determined as she gracefully glided across the hockey rink, jockeying for control of the puck whenever the opportunity arose.
Among the professional athletes participating in the USE that day, was retired NBA professional basketball player Sam Perkins and who, among other accomplishments, won a gold medal with the US Olympic Team at the 1984 Los Angeles games. When I read up on Perkins, I discovered he is known by the nicknames "Sleeping Sam" and "Big Smooth." I sure know where the "Big" came from as he stands 6 ft., 9 in. and well over 200 lbs. with a hulking frame not appearing to have an ounce of body fat, which would allow him to effortless push through any defensive line he came across. Because the USE is more about a fun and inclusive experience for the Special Olympic athletes and less about winning, Perkins kept himself reserved. But on a few occasions when Perkins did have his turn at the puck, his nickname "Big Smooth" rang true.
But the true stars of the USE competitions were the multi-national Special Olympic athletes themselves. The various teams were comprised of athletes from Costa Rica, Morocco, Kenya, Egypt, Austria, South Africa, Mexico, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Nigeria, and Trinidad and Tobago. Even though most of them only spoke their native language, teamsmanship apparently broke the language barrier for these athletes played as if the necessity to speak to one another to work as a team was a unnessary endeavor. I watched as these athletes played with tireless effort as if the very idea of giving up was a a notion unknown to them. I am like a broken record repeating what is a constant for me in all my years covering the Special Olympics: I am inspired and "moved" beyond words these athletes that show us all that having "heart" and "determination" knows no bounds.
To learn more about Unified Sports, visit this link: http://www.specialolympics.org/unified-sports.aspx