Hello everyone! My name is Logan Ashenhurst and I am in the senior year of my undergraduate study here at UW-Madison. I have been involved with the Ausderau Lab for about a year and a half, specifically within parent-child feeding/playtime studies and with interviewing and drafting for this research blog! I am in the process of applying for occupational therapy school this fall, where I hope to continue three more years of my education.
Throughout my time in the lab, a significant focus of the Ausderau Lab has been advocating for individuals with disabilities. Learning from individuals such as Sadler Bell and Haley Waggoner, we have gained an understanding of the importance of acceptance and inclusion. In June of 2022, the ESPN Wide World of Sports hosted an event epitomizing inclusion and advocacy for individuals with disabilities. Through this blog post, I would love to share information about my personal experience at the 2022 USA Special Olympic Games in Orlando, Florida.
Seven years ago, my brother, Sean, made the life-changing decision to begin participating in organized sports for Team Franklin Special Olympics, originating in Milwaukee county. Just a short drive from my hometown of Oak Creek, Team Franklin was my brother’s closest and best opportunity to get involved in an organization that values inclusion for all ability levels. Sean dabbled with a variety of different team sports, including basketball, bowling, and, his personal favorite, track and field. Seven years later, after multiple first-place finishes in the State Special Olympic Games hosted in Stevens Point, WI, my 24-year-old brother was given the opportunity to compete in the 2022 USA Games. Of the 10,000+ Special Olympic athletes in Wisconsin, Sean was one of 65 athletes who qualified and was chosen to represent our home state in the Games.
With the likes of the Summer/Winter Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, the USA Special Olympic Games occur every four years in different locations throughout the United States. Previously hosted in Seattle in 2018, the Games moved to Orlando, Florida in 2022. Orlando brought many exciting opportunities for all of the athletes who earned the opportunity to compete, including the chance to compete at a world-renowned facility, the ESPN Wide World of Sports. On top of the actual competition, athletes and coaches stayed at different hotels throughout Disney World and even visited different Disney Parks (paid for by Special Olympics and Walt Disney) during the times they were not competing.
As a spectator, the Special Olympic Games were indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience. From watching the sheer excitement on each athlete’s face in the Opening Ceremony, to seeing pure grit and determination while competing in their respective sports, I truly felt as if I was a part of an important historical event. In sports including flag football, powerlifting, cheerleading, and track & field, just to name a few, the passion shown by each and every athlete was both motivating and inspirational. In addition to the 4,000+ athletes, the fans, volunteers, and coaches truly made the viewing experience a delight. During competition, you could seemingly hear the screams of thousands of voices motivating the athletes. After competition, cheers and hollering were shared by all as each athlete received a medal/certificate for their accomplishments. The passion shared by all who were involved with the USA Games made viewing an absolute delight.
On top of the daily competition for the USA Games, Special Olympics organized some fantastic events for all of its fans and participants to take part in. On Thursday, June 9th, Special Olympics invited all athletes, coaches, and families to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to take part in a private event. Closing the park down early for the general public, Animal Kingdom was filled with athletes and families alike, all with the goal of relaxing and having fun. Disney generously offered all members of this event free food and drinks, all the while inviting everyone to ride their most noteworthy attractions, including Expedition Everest and Avatar Flight of Passage. Through this special event, Disney displayed their commitment and partnership to make the USA Special Olympic Games the best they could possibly be.
Throughout the past seven years, I have had the incredible opportunity to be involved with Special Olympics in the state of Wisconsin as a coach, volunteer, and spectator. The USA Special Olympic Games, however, was a completely new experience for not only myself, but also for my brother and all of his Team Wisconsin teammates and their opponents from around the country. I encourage all to attend the USA Special Olympic Games or any Special Olympics event one day! The 2026 USA Special Olympics will be hosted in our neighboring state, Minnesota, in the city of Minneapolis. If you can get there, go for it! You will not regret it.
Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt.
– Special Olympics Athlete Oath