• Memory Ellington

Passion Project #SOTXMorgans

Who: Special Olympics Texas


What: 50ᵗʰ Annual Special Olympics Summer Games


When: May 3-5, 2019


Where: Morgan's Wonderland, Toyota Field, Heroes Stadium, STAR Soccer Complex, Children's Rehabilitation Institute Teleton USA, and Blossom Athletic Center

⚠️⚠️ ACCESS FULL GALLERY HERE ⚠️⚠️


The 50th Annual Celebration


Special Olympic Texas’ Annual Summer Games is always free and open to the public. Throughout the days, families can enjoy food trucks, Olympic-style competitions, access to Morgan's Wonderland park and Inspiration Island (limited days and times), health screenings for athletes, and more!


Summer Games features included:

  • Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg/Press Conference

  • Athlete Village

  • Healthy Athletes

  • Opening Ceremonies

Sports

  • Athletics (Track and Field)

  • Cycling

  • Gymnastics

  • Soccer

  • Tennis

Here are a few of my favourite images from their event:


Check out the full gallery here.

About Special Olympics Texas Summer Games

Having photographed the Hand in Hand Fashion Fundraiser for The Academy at Morgan's Wonderland last year, I was excited to hear the Special Olympics Texas’ (SOTX) 50th Annual Summer Games was moving to San Antonio and would be hosted by Morgan's Wonderland. This four day event is SOTX's largest competition of the year and marks the first time the games have been held in what is affectionately called Inclusion City, USA.


What began in 1969 as a track and field event for 350 people continues today with over 3,000 athletes, almost 800 coaches, over 3,700 volunteers, and an anticipated total 10,000 community support presence. Presented by The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, its partnership with Morgan's and its move to San Antonio represents the dawn of a self-proclaimed Inclusion Revolution-a mission to end discrimination and create inclusive communities. This inclusive mission is reflected in lowering the age of competition to eight years old, resulting in a greater number of participating athletes than ever before.


It was our joy to serve a community of over 3,000 athletes from all over Texas as the first professional photographers brought on to capture the activities.

Key Highlights:


Volunteers

I want to take a moment to reflect on the massively impressive amount of manpower and volunteer hours that went into putting all of this together. Those who know me personally know, apart from my work through photography, I have over four years of experience working non-profit marketing and over six years in event management and planning. I have seen, worked, and supported a LOT of events and I have yet to see a paralleled response to the call for volunteers as we witness that weekend. From before 7:30 am when we arrived, to past 10 pm on some days, individuals lovingly gave of their time and talents to make this experience possible. Their efforts made all of this possible.


Personal Volunteer Shout Out: Another way we helped to increase photographic services for better full event coverage, was by coordinating the addition of another local professional photographer: Coral Martínez-Cardona with Viewfinder | Photography. Coral is also a local San Antonio photographer who joined us for opening ceremonies Friday night and at the Blossom Athletic Center for half the day on Saturday. You can view her pictures here.


Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg

The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) is the largest awareness campaign and fundraiser for the Special Olympics, engaging law enforcement in championing acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual challenges. Officers carried the "Flame of Hope", symbolizing courage and celebration of diversity, and delivered to the opening conference at the competition.

Opening Ceremonies

Even on a stormy day, athletes, coaches, family/friends, and community supporters alike showed up to a colourful opening ceremony Friday evening. The storms tested the timing of events and moved the ceremonies up thirty minutes, but that didn't faze the excited crowd at the Toyota stadium that night. (Yes, we do photograph regardless of rain, we are equipped with rain protection for ourselves and our gear!)

Actress and philanthropist Eva Longoria emceed the ceremonies, with a fun debut from her ten-month-old son Santiago. The ceremonies included welcoming remarks by Tim Martin, SOTX president; Gordon Hartman, founder of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation; San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg; and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar.


Key features of the night included:

  • a massive procession of competitors and law enforcement representatives into the stadium

  • the lighting of the cauldron with the Flame of Hope by Morgan Hartman signifying the official start of the games

  • a flyover

  • a fireworks display

  • a record turn out that will continue to grow in the years to come


Sports & Games

Feature Moment: If we had to select our favourite moment, this moment during one of the wheelchair races would be it. Both my husband and I stopped to watch this moment happen. This athlete was not first or even second, but he was a champion. There was what we only assume was his dad. BEAMING, so filled with joy and pride from the moment the race was off to the second he crossed the finish line, with tears in his eyes. We would come back every year just for this. The purest of celebrations of the limitless length each athlete present can go to.


MEALS FOR ATHLETES

Who: H-E-B, Denny's Dinners, and local Food Trucks

GOLF CARTS

Who: Toyota Field

Golf cart shuttles were provided between central events not located at the Blossom Athletic Center. Huge thank you to the venue for media cart access! We are always appreciative when larger venues and event coordinators for vastly spaced activities provide transportation accommodations. This helps us spend more time photographing your events versus walking long distances to get to each attraction. Also, golf carts are great for keeping snacks and rain gear at close hand.


Athletes' Village

Where: Morgan's Wonderland

If I had to pick a second favourite moment during the weekend, it has to be the Athletes' Village. I only wish we could have spent more time there. Seeing the families of all ages enjoy the, no-limitations, easy-access, amusement park was such an uplifting part of our Saturday afternoon. Not only is the joy on their faces enough to touch your heart, but every staff member we ran into showed true love for Morgan's and the individuals who enjoyed their parks.

The park at Morgan's Wonderland and its Inspiration Island water park was open to all athletes, coaches, and families at no cost Friday from 10am-4pm and again Saturday from 10am-3pm.


Healthy Athletes:

Where: Children's Rehabilitation Institute of Teleton USA (CRIT, USA)

This part of the events was a very special treat because it was the first time SOTX Summer Games athletes had access to complementary health screenings as part of the Healthy Athletes program. Now when you think of health screening you probably think of doctors, and we've all had hit or miss experiences medical practitioners in our lifetimes. However, the experience at the Healthy Athletes hub was nothing short of wonderful. Before even walking into the CRIT, athletes are greeted by friendly welcoming faces and the screenings are absolutely free and welcome to all SOTX athletes.


Services included: feet, fitness, health promotion, hearing, MedFast, vision, dental, and mental health.


Youth Leadership Experience

Who: Special Olympics Texas

Approximately 150 secondary school students of all abilities shadowed event personnel to witness leadership in action. This full-day experience provided youth with first-hand training from coaches, staff, key volunteers, and officials. We got to meet these two young ladies with an interest in media studies. Knowing our young people today are being partnered with adults that have a vision of an inclusion-minded future sure shines a hopeful light on the leadership of tomorrow.

Why We Show Up


When we reached out over two months ago with an interest in providing coverage for the 2019 Summer Games as our May passion project, we were met with so much excitement. We frequently heard how excited the athletes were about having professional photographs of them and their competitions in the weeks leading up to the event. It was a beautiful reminder to us why we build these partnerships each month. The hard work and efforts of small and large non-profits that help our communities are often unseen and left in the background. #PassionProjects are a way to showcase, embrace, and celebrate so many individuals and groups within our larger communities that come together every day, as family, to support one another.

ABOUT SPECIAL OLYMPICS TEXAS

#SpecialOlympicsTexas provides athletic opportunities for more than 58,800 Texan of all ages with developmental disabilities through year-round sports training and Olympic-type competition. Their mission is to help their athletes realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience joy and friendship (SOTX.org).


ABOUT MORGAN'S WONDERLAND

Morgan’s Wonderland is truly a place for all ages and abilities. With twenty-five ultra-accessible™ attractions and a completely wheelchair-accessible facility, it is the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals in mind. Inspired by a vision of inclusion for individuals of all abilities (MorgansWonderland.com).


ABOUT CRIT USA

The Children’s Rehabilitation Institute TeletonUSA (CRIT), funded by The TeletonUSA Foundation, is the largest private pediatric rehabilitation system in the world with more than 110K patients in the US and Mexico. It serves patients and families with neurological, muscular, and skeletal disabilities in San Antonio and across the United States (CRITUSA.org).


ABOUT EVA LONGORIA

Actress, producer, director, and activist Eva Longoria says her greatest work is bringing awareness to important issues and causes close to her heart. Longoria has established two organizations with the vision of creating better futures for the people they serve: The Eva Longoria Foundation with a mission to help Latina women through education and entrepreneurship and Eva's Heroes dedicated to enriching the lives of adolescents and young adults with intellectual challenges by providing an inclusive setting built on interaction, growth, learning, and love.

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