I'm asking you, during these games, to show the world what it looks like to lead from the heart... Show the world what it means to choose to include. Show others, when they see tension and fear, show them togetherness. Some are seeing despair all around them. You show us joy. And where others see division, I'm asking you, show them love.
These were the words that rang through the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium, kicking off the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle on July 1, 2018. Over the next week, more than 3000 athletes from all 50 states would give their all competing in 14 team and individual sports. To support these competitors and their families, 10,000 volunteers poured into the Puget Sound area to volunteer during the week of the games.
After sending groups to South Korea, Los Angeles, and Austria to support the past three World Games, for the first time Perfect Sense decided to send a team of volunteers to represent the company at the USA Games. Ten employees from across the company—from developers and engineers, to project managers and marketing practitioners—chose to give of their time and energy to support these brave competitors during the games.
“It was amazing to see an entire community that is not only committed to inclusion but thrives because of it. There's so much genuine celebration and inspiration that you can't help but be a part of."
While most celebrated the 4th of July with cookouts and fireworks, the Perfect Sense team spent the week working around the clock. As in past games, Perfect Sense organized a series of Unified Sports Experiences that united local Special Olympics athletes with celebrities, professional athletes, and other honored guests as teammates in basketball, volleyball, soccer, and football. The four events, held during the first two days of competition, engaged over 400 people and allowed these participants the opportunity to experience the joy of playing unified.
Nowhere were these ideals more exemplified than on the football field, where Seattle Seahawks legends and Hall of Famers Walter Jones and Steve Largent took to the field for a spirited game of flag football. For the Special Olympics athletes, the opportunity to catch passes from former NFL quarterbacks Jim Zorn, Dave Krieg, and Brock Huard was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The moment, however, was equally memorable for the honored guests who lined up alongside the Special Olympics stars.
"The best moment for me was when my six-year-old son, who was also volunteering, looked at me as we walked the athletes towards the podium and said: ‘Daddy, I'm so happy for them.’"
As the competitions at the venues around Seattle heated up, the Perfect Sense volunteer team turned its efforts from the playing field to the medal podiums at Husky Ballpark and the Fan Zone at Husky Stadium. Over the course of five days, the team oversaw 431 award ceremonies and presented more than 3200 medals and ribbons to Special Olympics athletes who competed at the USA Games. From setting up the stage, to staging the athletes, to guiding the presenting dignitaries, and even announcing the victors, the team worked non-stop to ensure that all of the participants had their turn in the spotlight as they stood on the podium and received their medals.
"All of the athletes, overcoming so much, compete at a very high level. To watch them compete and give it their all, be able to spend time with them, hear about their achievements, and watch them at their best while celebrating these achievements was extremely inspiring."
As they received their awards, some athletes raised their arms in triumph, while others broke down into tears. Some waved at family and friends in the crowd, while others hugged their competitors. Some (especially the powerlifters) flexed their muscles, while others danced on the podium. These authentic moments of pure joy remain the enduring images of the Games.
In 2019, Perfect Sense will continue its commitment to Special Olympics at the World Games in Abu Dhabi. Like their colleagues in Seattle, this group will be inspired by the courage, determination, and joy of the athletes and awed by the power of sport to change the lives of those on the field and in the stands.