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Shared Stories:

Being Part of a Unified Team

A USA Games Experience as Told by Xander Sheehan, Kyler Tvedt, and Kellan Benck

Xander Sheehan (14):

A group of basketball players smiling together.It’s hard to find words to describe what it was like to experience the USA games as a Unified Partner.  I was honored to be selected as a partner but I had no idea of the magnitude of the event I was about to participate in.  Upon arriving in Seattle and getting the welcome we did at the airport it started to dawn on me that this was something bigger than I had ever experienced before. 

The week in Seattle was much more than just about competing in basketball, it was about making friendships, supporting all athletes regardless of where they were from and learning just how much competing means to the athletes regardless of whether they win or lose. Competing and being a part of a team makes them feel included and that’s what Special Olympics is about….inclusion.

Two members of the Unified Team hugging and smiling.The biggest thing I took away from the week was sportsmanship.  I have competed in sports all my life, but there is nothing like the sportsmanship that takes place in Special Olympics. Everyone cheers for everyone else, even if it happens to be the team you are currently competing against. Everyone is happy for the accomplishments of the athletes and you can’t help but smile yourself when you see the reaction of an athlete who just scored a basket or made a good play. This was especially apparent during our championship game when a Minnesota athlete scored a 3 point basket and ran over and hugged his mom. You couldn’t help but be happy for him. And after we won the game, the Minnesota players congratulated us and told us how well we played defense. Never had I experienced that while playing my other sports, it’s always about winning and losing. I think everyone who participates in sports could learn a few things from Special Olympics, I know I sure did.
Members of the Unified Team playing basketball.

Kyler Tvedt (17):

Members of the Unified Team hugging on the basketball court.Being part of the Unified USA Basketball was an overall great experience, not just for me but for all the athletes. I learned and tried my best to demonstrate that the trip wasn’t just about going and playing a sport, it was about having fun and creating an experience for the athletes who may never have an opportunity like this.

I got to see the athletes’ reactions to winning a Gold medal, riding on a plane, and even staying in dorms. In unified basketball I try my best to make sure the athletes can show their full potential and have fun while doing it.

Members of the Unified Team playing basketball.

Kellan Benck (16):

Members of the Unified Team playing basketball.I am very thankful to the Special Olympics South Dakota for the trip to the USA games this summer in Seattle.

I’m also thankful for my friend and athlete, Dylan Motzer, for asking me to join him on this journey.  I’m thankful for the coaches, Chris and Amanda, for providing support for all of us and keeping us all sort of in order.  

Members of the Unified Team watching basketball game courtside.The USA games were a great experience for me and everyone else involved.  With some of our partners being big parts of our  high school teams and being some well recognized players in varsity basketball in South Dakota, it was absolutely awesome to see exactly what the Special Olympics athletes are capable of.  There were many amazing experiences on the trip including the plane rides, sightseeing, Mariners game, and just spending time with the athletes and partners from our delegation and from others.  The most amazing part of the trip for me was winning the gold and seeing how happy it made all of our players, especially the athletes.  It was awesome for them and everyone else involved on our journey and it was amazing to see all the parents and fans we had all the way out in Seattle.  

Members of the Unified Team hugging on the basketball court.I think Unified Sports are one of the coolest and greatest things I’ve seen.  It’s such a great idea to include athletes and partners, showing that they really are equals and are all capable of the same things.  I’m extremely happy I chose to get included with Unified sports and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I think it is amazing and I would absolutely encourage anyone and everyone to get involved with Special Olympics as it is a very eye-opening and rewarding experience for anyone who is a part of it.  

Personally I think it’s pretty awesome how much the little town of clear lake came together and rooted for team South Dakota, especially Dylan and myself.  I’ve talked to so many people around town and received letters and messages about my experience and how it has inspired them or their kids or their friends to become involved with this amazing organization.  I am very thankful for this amazing organization and all it has done for me so far in the short year I have been involved!

Members of the Unified Team standing in front of Rise with Us sign.

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