This is the latest blog entry from the athletes on the Colorado Rapids Special Olympics Unified Team, brought to you by Cardel Homes.
A gust of wind brought a strong wave of rain and some ominous clouds loomed over Chicago. Seconds later, lightening and hail arrived. The MLS Unified Special Olympics All-Star match at Toyota Park, home of the Chicago Fire, was scheduled to start in an hour and a half, and we all had some hope that the game would continue as planned, but in that moment, it looked incredibly improbable. Fortunately, as we arrived at Toyota Park the sky opened and the rain had almost subsided.
The All-Star game was a match between the East and West Unified teams, both which consisted of 22 players. As representatives of the Colorado Rapids and Special Olympics Colorado, Colton Rice and I played on the West Unified team. Every MLS team sent one athlete and one Unified partner. We received a whole new kit as All-Stars that included jerseys with our names and the Colorado Rapids badge, shorts, socks, a water bottle and a warm-up jersey. The walkouts before the game was similar to a professional soccer match.
The first half of our match concluded with the East up one goal. However, in the second half, the West took the lead after both an athlete and a Unified partner scored a pair of goals. No matter who finished, the whole movement of the ball down the field was facilitated by the efforts of both athletes and Unified partners. Unfortunately, in the last few moments of the game, the East came back to tie it up. Some Chicago Fire players attended the game, and handed out medals following the match. Even though the game ended in a draw, the result was what mattered the least, as everyone undoubtedly had a fantastic experience. Within the realm of Special Olympics, this MLS Unified Special Olympics All-Star Game was a platform to promote and reveal the power of Unified Sports to a greater audience during the All-Star Week.
A unified soccer match is very powerful to watch. The athlete’s abilities are recognized, rather than their disabilities. A soccer field is an equal playing field where people of all backgrounds can unite together because it is a sport that is truly universal. Everyone came to Chicago with skills, knowledge, and a love of soccer.
The whole week was unforgettable. We had the opportunity to stay in the same hotel as the MLS All-Stars, which led us to casually running into players including Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, David Villa, Jozy Altidore, Kaka, Kellyn Acosta, and Alan Gordon. We attended the Real Madrid training and saw Gareth Bale and Marcelo Vieira, which was also exciting. The day of the MLS All-Star Game, we went to a beach for the All-Star Day of Service, where we helped to clean up. It was nice to have an opportunity to give back during the All-Star Week. It was one way to reciprocate the generosity to the programs and city that hosted us. It was nice to get to know the other Unified Pairs from different cities, and then we played some beach soccer.
The week concluded with the MLS All-Star game at Soldier Field where the MLS All-Stars took on Real Madrid. There was an incredible amount of energy in the stadium with over 61,000 fans in attendance. During halftime, both the West and East Unified Special Olympics teams were recognized on the field. This moment brought it full circle of Special Olympics history, as the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in 1968. It was a moment that showed how far Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision had been realized by athletes and Unified Partners from around the country. It was a memorable and almost surreal culmination of the All-Star week.
Having had many leadership opportunities as a Unified Partner with Special Olympics so far, this one was unforgettable. Colton and I are both so appreciative and honored to have been chosen to represent the Colorado Rapids and Special Olympics Colorado at MLS All-Star week! It was nice to reunite with some former opponents from different MLS Unified teams, and then have the opportunity to look forward to seeing some again in our upcoming matches against Houston Dynamo. It is so empowering to know that we are a part of a young, unified generation that truly knows what it means to play united, and include individuals of all abilities on the same playing field.