1. Watching the athletes interact with each other, compete, and have fun! There were so many, and they were continually made to feel so special at the Opening Ceremony, Awards Ceremonies and all week long! It was fun to watch our eight member bowling team compete individually, in doubles, and in two teams of four.
2. Meeting, hanging out with, or getting to know other families from around the country, Wisconsin, and those on our bowling team. Trading state pins with each other and compliments on our Wisconsin shirts. We talked and shared during competitions and ceremonies. Our team parents took turns at different lanes to cheer and support all our team. By the end of the week we managed to pull off a group meeting for lunch at The Cheesecake Factory.
3. Watching our son bowl his personal best, a 213. One rule all the athletes had to abide by was the possibility of disqualification if an event scored 15% or more above your qualifying scores. His 213 got balanced by a slow start in the series. Another of our bowlers also scored her personal best during national competition! Very cool!
4. Waiting in suspense after a competition to see how our son, Alberto, and other team athletes had placed. Because of individual handicaps and different divisions, you didn't know until the award ceremony held later. You don't expect to win a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Being there to compete is success itself, just being able to watch all the athletes as they receive their awards. There were hams in every group! It was fun to watch when the medal winners figured out their top placement. They often realized it around the 4th or 5th place ribbons. The look then on the athletes’ faces was priceless! I still have calluses on my hands from all the clapping.
5. Our son earned bronze in his division of the individual competition, gold in the doubles with his teammate Randy, and gold again with his teammates: Randy, Nate and Amanda in the top team division. Our other Wisconsin team of Samantha, Desiree, Michael and Melanie placed gold as well. That was quite a celebration! With those wins, each person on Wisconsin's bowling team left with at least one medal! There were some tough games. We felt for each of our athletes when no matter how hard they tried it seemed like the pins did not fall right. We celebrated with each one when they did! Nerves and adjusting to the competition affected them all. The early competition had an impact as well. Bowling started at 8 a.m. each day. Our team was up at 5 a.m. to get ready and board the buses that transported them the 45 minute drive to the lanes. A couple of sweet moments came with a Four Bagger (four strikes in a row) by our son and a teammate bowling seven strikes in a row. We learned later that by the end of the week, every single one of Wisconsin's athletes, 62 to be exact, had earned at least one medal! They did our state proud!!!
6. Opening Ceremonies. Wow, is all I can think of to say! I hope you had a chance to watch the special on June 30 at 6 p.m. central time on Fox Sports 1. There were so many athletes! The parade of the states! The music, presentations, and celebration! It made us all feel so special! The texts from family and friends as they watched Internet live streaming added to those feelings! Seeing your own child and teammates on the Jumbotron. Running into the Gainey Family from Menomonie on the train platform and then enjoying the evening with them made it more fun!
7. A few opportunities to take in some sights: The Flight 93 Memorial, Lancaster County, Philadelphia, Valley Forge, and Gettysburg etc. in Pennsylvania; The World Trade Center and 911 Memorial in NYC; and the Princeton area, Jersey Shore, and Statue of Liberty in New Jersey.
8. Visiting some of the National Special Olympic activities around the Princeton area. Our favorite was the opportunity we had to watch our team as they made their way around some carnival rides and 'boardwalk' before they discovered us.
9. The traffic, trains, New Jersey gas stations (state law requires them to pump gas for you), and jug handles (the right turn areas that you had to use to get across the highway because you cannot turn left). A favorite phrase of the week became "…you are only as fast as your slowest buffalo…" (which meant I, as one of the slower buffaloes, had to learn to add more time to get ready and learn to walk as if I was 6 feet tall). A 55 speed limit anywhere close to NYC means 80mph.
10. The happy exhaustion, watching our son grow up and listening to all he had to share. A huge THANK YOU to our coaches, the volunteers, Special Olympics Wisconsin and International for an experience of a lifetime!