The Special Olympic World Winter Games Austria 2017 was an event filled with athletes having more heart and soul, and sheer determination, that I have witnessed in any group of people. Special Olympics is more than just competitors striving to win over their opponents, and in my opinion, has a much more deeper and meaningful level: to give these inspirational men and women, both young and old, a sense of accomplishment and confidence in their abilities and talents in a world that in many cases does not have the pleasure or insight to see. In my many years of covering Special Olympic events as a photojournalist for Specialneeds.com, I have witnessed these people of immense courage in many different events display a variety of emotions, from excitement to joy to discouragement to disappointment but one constant in all of this, is the overwhelming display of heart and soul, and this in my opinion, renders the word "losers" meaningless and having no place in any Special Olympics event!
On March 23rd, this heart and soul was never more prevalent than in the floor hockey competition between the El Cajon Gulls of Team USA Southern California and the athletes of Team Morocco. Throughout the entire game, I witnessed every player give it their all in an, "on-the-edge-of your-seat" toe to toe competition.
I watched as Team USA pushed themselves to the limit in defending their goal, and in their attempts to score a point for their team. I watched as Team Morocco met Team USA every step of the way, then return with their own valiant efforts to make the win. It was exciting! Player verses player; and in many cases player verses a players, as the puck was driven towards its intended destination for the chance of being slipped past the defending goalie for the point.
Every athlete I watched seemed to play as if the World Cup was at stake and every athlete played with what I will describe as tenacity of will. But what I never saw, was any display of poor teamanship or animosity of any kind towards their opponents - this I can honestly say I have yet to personally witness in any Special Olympics event.
For all that the Special Olympics stands for, heart and soul is one of my "go to" descriptor phrases to help me recount, relive, and share what I witness of the events I attend, for this phrase to me is all encompassing of the determination, courage, character of spirit, and a whole host of other inspirational attributes these athletes "breathe" into Special Olympics. Even though Team Morocco emerged as the victors in this event, it did not come easy as Team USA matched them at every turn...at every goal...with both teams radiating all the heart and soul anyone could ever ask for; something today's society needs more of, and this in essence, makes them both winners.
To view all of the images in my online gallery from the event, click here: www.goo.gl/n3yC2D