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BURMEISTER: Humility to start the Special Olympics

The Rapid City Journal - 7/3/2018

Editor's Note: Joe Burmeister is a unified partner with Matt Molin of the Black Hills Storm in the bocce competition at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle this week. Burmeister is writing a daily blog on the goings on with the Black Hills area and Team South Dakota athletes.

Last summer, when I was selected to be a part of Team South Dakota to participate in the USA Special Olympic Games, a wave of emotions came over me. Excitement, pride, elation, anticipation--I ran the whole gamut. I was able to keep these things in check for the entire year. But then suddenly, on Saturday morning, the trip was here. And then I felt an entire new sensation that I hadn't considered.


It is a humbling experience to think that I am a representative in this incredible event. I am one of over 3,000 athletes and coaches from all over the United States who get to be here in Seattle this week, representing our country. And could there be any more of an appropriate time to do so than the week that our nation celebrates its 242nd birthday?

On another scale, since I will be a Unified Bocce Partner to a Special Olympic athlete, I am one of only 51 athletes representing South Dakota. Pair it down even further, and there are only nine of us from Rapid City at this incredible event. But when I look at it from even another perspective--through the eyes of some of the Special Olympians that I am here competing with this week--it becomes even more humbling that I can fathom.

When I started to break it down inside my head, questions began to run wild. How many of our South Dakota Special Olympians have ever participated in the Special Olympic USA Games before? How many of them have ever been to Seattle before? How many of them have ever been on an airplane before?How many of them have ever had their name or photograph in a newspaper, or on television before? How many of them have ever stayed in a college dormitory before?

In short, I have answers to some of these questions. Out of our state's delegation of 51, the USA Games experience is brand new to 22 of them. Out of those same 51, eight of them just hopped on a plane for the first time. I still am learning answers to my other questions...and so many more.

As the West River portion of our delegation flew out of Rapid City on Saturday, the day was filled with airport waiting, boarding and unloading planes, visiting Salt Lake City en route to Seattle, and building new relationships.

Sunday brought a televised opening ceremony on ABC, and the chance for these athletes to be seen and heard on national media through those images on the small-screen.

This is where my role in this becomes so humbling, that I sometimes wonder if I am worthy of the honor of being here. This week is about changing lives. I get to have a hand in providing these lifetime experiences and memories for these athletes who ask for nothing more than to be allowed to compete, and to be accepted.

These athletes just want to be called "normal."

Make no mistake...there is nothing "normal" about them. A better adjective is "extraordinary." As I walked into the University of Washington'sHusky Stadium Sunday as they announced Team South Dakota, and saw courage and excitement and pride all around me, I realized, that this week is going to be a life-altering experience. Not only for the athletes...but for myself and all of the other coaches as well.

Tomorrow, competition starts. Let's see what new experiences await!


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