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My final day in Costa Rica was marked with many tearful goodbyes and promises of visits and staying in touch. My friends at the office took me out for a nice lunch and gave me a thank you gift, which included a ton of Special Olympics Costa Rica apparel, as well as a beautiful framed picture of me working with some Special Olympic athletes and a thank you note. My host family wished me well with a few gifts from Costa Rica and many hugs as I walked out their front door for the final time.

One of my favorite parts of working with elementary school aged athletes was when they would practice English they had been learning in class with me. Everyone knows the same 3 phrases and takes turn saying “hello, how are you?” “what is your name?” and “where are you from?”

My final week in Costa Rica was pretty turbulent in terms of both the organization as a whole as well as my project. As I mentioned in previous posts, The Special Olympics is having serious problems with funding. This year they had to completely cut one of the departments, Young Athletes, and were still barely scraping by. At the beginning of my first week, my supervisor told me that the administration was considering cutting the program that I had been working with, the Healthy Athletes program. Hearing this made me very upset as I have had the opportunity to directly see the benefit of this program for the athletes and it broke my heart to think about these fantastic health resources being taken away from people who desperately needed them. It was also frustrating on a personal level because a majority of the things that I had been working on the whole summer were to be used in the future for different activities or events. Therefore if the Healthy Athletes program did get shut down, much of my work would never get used and essentially be for nothing.

After a few anxious days of waiting on the verdict, my supervisor returned to the office after a meeting with the Special Olympics administrators and informed me that they had decided that the Healthy Athletes program was too important to cut and they would continue making it a priority in budgeting. She also told me that one of the big reasons that they decided to keep it was because they found a lot of value in the work that I had done that summer that she had used as part of defense presentation. They saw the database of athlete medical data that I had created as well as the analysis I had done on that data and saw quantitatively the number of athletes that had been examined (over 500), as well as how important this exams were, with over half needing follow up care in some cases.  They also saw the many materials and activities that I had made for very low budget future health and wellness related activities and realized that this program is both important and economically sustainable (with some intentional effort). It was very rewarding when, in my last few days, it was reaffirmed that my presence that summer had made a lasting impact on the organization and the lives of the athletes that were trying to help

A Special Olympic Athlete having his vision checked at a medical fair hosted by Healthy Communities.

As I now step into a role at Duke as the President of our Special Olympics club, I feel empowered to start new initiatives and go bigger than our club ever has before. This means expanding and restructuring our executive board, starting a unified flag football league at Duke, partnering with other clubs to do more social events with athletes on campus, broadening the budding health program that I started last year on campus, and finally bringing on a few Special Olympic Athletes to serve as part of the Duke College Club executive board.  I am confident that my experience on the administrative level of a national Special Olympics Organization will help me lead effectively and compassionately in my role this year.