Coach Bonnie Kahn of Tomahawk has provided the following reports from Athens, Greece about the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2011. Kahn, who was selected as a Team USA Athletics (track and field) coach for the World Games, is a physical education and adapted physical education instructor in the Tomahawk School District and has been involved with Special Olympics Wisconsin for more than 20 years.
As seen in the June 28, 2011, Tomahawk Leader:
Kahn’s Special Olympics World Games adventure
By Bonnie Kahn
It’s Thursday, June 23, and I am in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea on our way to Athens on a huge ferry ship! We've been at sea for 3.5 hours and we still have 12 more hours to go. I’m not sure whose idea this was but it sure didn't have the best interests of the athletes in mind. But what is really amazing is that they never seem to complain.
Our track team totals 65 and we were given one sleeping cabin with four beds and five airplane seats to sleep in. My athletes are sacked out all over the place.
We found out you should not give Dramamine to athletes on an empty stomach. Where is Teri Rortvedt when you need her? We were just getting ready to board the ship when two of my athletes literally fell asleep standing up! Wow, that was fun!
Other than that, things have been going great. We had a fantastic sendoff in Baltimore and then headed to the airport. We were supposed to fly out at 9 p.m. but our plane broke down and we didn’t take off until close to 3a.m. We landed in Ireland to refuel and then flew on to the Isle of Rhodes. We stayed in a beautiful hotel on the sea that provided a couple of surprises for the coaches and athletes. First, all of the beaches are topless, and second, you don’t put toilet paper in the toilet.
Our training has been going well. We have some simply awesome athletes who continue to amaze me every day. We have done some sightseeing that includes some long bus rides but the scenery is so worth it! We were able to see part of the torch run in Lindos, and high up on the hilltop is what is left of the Acropolis. They have mostly filled all of the old forts and castle-type buildings with thousands of shops. I guess they aren't into preserving history, but the country is just trying to survive.
We should arrive in Athens by noon on Friday, and then it is off to the hotel to get settled in. Sleep would be a welcome thing. We try to have the athletes get seven hours if we can. The coaches are running on much less than that, but I knew that when I signed on for this.
Competition starts on Sunday. Rumor has it that Stevie Wonder will be at Opening Ceremonies!
I need to find some floor space to curl up on for now.
Ladies of the Lake, I missed you all when I went for a morning swim!
Maggie, Jeremy B. says to tell you that Mike is doing well and loves dancing with the girls.
Speaking of dancing, I found out I can polka to Greek music, and I had our interpreter teach me how to dance to Zorba the Greek.
Opening Ceremonies (Saturday, June 25)
They were unbelievable.
We loaded the buses here around 4 p.m. and got to our drop-off point at 5 p.m. or so. As we passed by a park, there were these amazing columns just rising up into the air. I'm sure my pictures won't do them justice.
We were seated under tents and served a cheese sandwich, water, and a bar. We sat there until 8 p.m. or so, and then Team USA was finally called. The walk to the actual entrance took more than an hour...not because it was so long but because we stopped so often. Dehydration was a problem.
Because our team is so big, and our group was so far back when we entered the stadium, we didn't hear them say, “USA,” but to walk into that ancient stadium was simply breathtaking. You wave at all the people you can't really see but who are cheering for you and then it hits you where you are and what you are doing. Wow!
All of the teams were probably in by 10 o’clock or so. The host team is always last, and when Greece came in the place went wild, and they released all of these beautiful white doves into the air! Everyone in the place is on their feet ...all 7,500 athletes plus coaches and fans...I'd guess 45-70,000 people. What a production they put on. It was absolutely beautiful. The choreography could not have been better...and fireworks...man, I'm always a sucker for fireworks. I once told someone that if the Opening. Ceremony didn't make you cry then it wasn't a good one. I should have brought a box of Kleenex for this one.
Tim Shriver spoke well. They did a video highlight of Eunice K. Shriver that brought tears and cheers from all the athletes. The flame lighting was spectacular. The program was em-ceed by some Greek singer and Vanessa Williams. Oh, and the entertainment??? Stevie Wonder....yowser. So okay, I cried when he sang too. He did five outstanding songs of his, including “You are the apple of my eye”...and I'm brain-dead right now, but he was awesome.
And the torch runners… wow. Steve Meurett (not Wonder) and I so hoped that we would be able to actually see Carolyn....and we did! The officers and athletes who ran the torch throughout Turkey and Greece lined the walkway as we were leaving in throngs when suddenly there was our girl. We all hugged and laughed and cried. I am so proud of her.
Oh, and guess who carried the Olympic flag? Edwin Moses, my hurdle hero. They must have had me in mind when they planned the night. Ha! Ha!
The entire production lasted five hours. It was another hour-and-a-half before we could actually get to a bus to board... then an hour back to the hotel.
I got my athletes settled and was in bed by 4:00 am. Luckily we were able to get the 3k runners out of there early as they were the first preliminary race of the day. So everyone was up and either on the 7:30 a.m. or the 9:30 a.m. bus. And, the athletes never complain. We could learn so much from them.
Just a bit more and then I need to catch some sleep. If anyone sees Don Lintereur please tell him that I thought of him as we went by the exit sign to Marananthos, Greece, the start of the first Marathon.
Also I need to say that there are some things that are not right with all of this. There are decisions being made by our own Games Management Committee. and by the GOC that do not put the best interests of the athletes first. We try to take care of them the best that we can but we can only do so much. The 18-hour ride on the ferry boat was not necessary. Another $40K and we could have flown here from Rhodes and it would have taken maybe an hour.
And on the bright side Christopher Mark from Wisconsin is one of the best athletes and most considerate people I have ever met. I am so fortunate to call him one of mine.