Special Olympics

“You’ll Be Changed By The Experience.”

ESPN reporter Gene Wojciechowski heeds his colleagues' advice as he prepares to cover his first Special Olympics World Games, beginning this week in Abu Dhabi

EDITOR’S NOTE: ESPN’s coverage of the 2019 Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi will begin Thursday (11 a.m. ET) with a three-hour ESPNEWS special featuring the Opening Ceremony, part of more than 175 hours of live coverage. Today on Front Row, ESPN reporter Gene Wojciechowski anticipates his first Special Olympics World Games assignment.

In early March, I was flying home from Orlando after working on several Masters-related pieces at Bay Hill. While walking through the terminal at MCO, I noticed several dozen World Games athletes making their way to their gate for the beginning of their long trip to the UAE.

They wore their red, white and blue USA sweat suits and they had smiles as wide as a first-class seat. But that’s not what I noticed most. Travelers in the terminal stopped and wished them well. One man started clapping. I’m not sure if they were coaches, chaperones or parents, but I saw several of the USA reps beaming with pride.

Gene Wojciechowski
(Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)

So if you ask me why I feel like I’ve won the ESPN Lotto by being assigned to cover my first World Games, it’s those faces I saw in the airport terminal that day. None of those business travelers or families headed to Disney World knew the athletes’ names, or what events they’d compete in. It didn’t matter. They respected the effort and the uniform.

I’m an accidental and late-addition to the coverage team, but several ESPN veterans of past World Games have told me the same thing, almost word for word: You’ll be changed by the experience.

Change is good. The World Games are better.

I’m a believer in small stories being just as important as large ones. The World Games will be a martini mix of both. I can’t wait to learn the names, and the stories behind those names.

David Saville is an assistant equipment manager at Clemson. Producer Jon Fish and I did a story on him for College GameDay several seasons ago. David is a remarkable and beloved member of the Clemson football family who just happens to be a young adult with Down syndrome. To him, his family, Coach Dabo Swinney and those players, it isn’t a disability; it’s an opportunity.

Now I get an opportunity to cover these athletes in a world setting, and with a world-class ESPN team. What do I expect? I don’t have a clue. And you know what? That’s the fun of it.

Olympic champion Allyson Felix (fifth from left) coaches athletes at Special Olympics clinic. (Photo courtesy of Special Olympics)
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