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2019 Special Olympics World Games: What Was It Like to Be There?

Jenny Chase, a program manager here at Developmental Pathways, traveled to Abu Dhabi with her friend Jeremy for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games. She graciously offered to share their amazing experience with us. 

A Trip to Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics

In March, I had the wonderful honor of traveling to Abu Dhabi for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games with over 300 members of Special Olympics USA including my friend, Jeremy.  The 2019 Special Olympics World Games was the largest sporting and humanitarian event in 2019, offering 24 sports across Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The Host Town Program

Jeremy and I embarked on this adventure ready to showcase to the world the amazing abilities of our athletes.  When we arrived in the UAE, we travelled to Dubai for our host town experience.  During Host Town, it is the hope that delegations not only get acclimated to the time change and overcome jet lag, but also get a glimpse into local culture.  Our Host Town in Dubai included an evening at Dubai Parks (similar to what we know as Universal Studios Theme Park), a visit to a local school, a showcase of local dances and customs, and finally the last leg of the Torch Run. 

Let the Games Begin

After Host Town, we made our way back to Abu Dhabi for the start of the Games. Opening Ceremonies is really hard to capture in words… these games brought together 7000 Special Olympics athletes from 170 countries, all with a common goal, a common pride and a common language of love and acceptance.  As Delegations wait to enter the stadium, athletes exchange high-fives, hand-shakes and pins/tokens from their countries; while coaches look on knowingly smiling at each and realizing the magnitude of what they are witnessing.  Walking into a stadium full of people cheering for athletes of all abilities is life changing and, no matter how many World Games you go to, never ceases to amaze!  The entertainment (including Avril Lavigne) and fireworks show were definitely the highlights for our team!

Jeremy represented Special Olympics USA as part of the Cycling Team.  He was housed on Yaz Island with his coaches and teammates along with other countries also competing in Cycling.  The initial days at the Cycling Venue consisted of training and learning the race course, moving to divisioning rounds where athletes are placed in appropriate divisions based on their age, gender and ability.  The remaining days consisted of the final, medal rounds in both the road races and time trials.  Jeremy made us all proud bringing home a 7th place, a 5th place and a Bronze Medal.  During some ‘down time’, Jeremy and other members of Special Olympics USA were also able to experience more cultural activities including a trip to the desert for camel rides, tours of the Grand Mosque and walks to the Persian Gulf beach.  

As a Director for Special Olympics USA, I was lucky to be able to travel to multiple venues and cheer on the athletes competing in their chosen sport.  Every day was a whirlwind of activity and excitement and before we knew it, Closing Ceremonies was commencing and it was time to return home.  Overall, Jeremy and I were gone for roughly 2.5 weeks…and packed tightly into those weeks were memories that will last a lifetime!