Volunteering with Special Olympians as a Sign Language Interpreter

March 2021. A year after the pandemic began. Reminiscing on a day from February 2020, when activities still happened in-person. 

Thursday morning, I woke up like any other February day: before the sun rose, frost on the grass, and made some coffee.  Off to work at 7:30am.

Lo and behold, a text as I drive the fifty miles to my current ongoing interpreting gig. It’s Aaron – an interpreter, a friend and a mentor – asking me to help coach and supervise the Special Olympics Washington (SOWA) snowboarding team during the state tournament over the weekend. This team has both Deaf and hearing athletes.

I am a volunteer coach for SOWA soccer but I am an avid snowboarder too. And it is a tiny niche of interpreters available to supervise a snowboarding trip at the last minute, to say the least. So it didn’t take too long to decide! That afternoon, I let Aaron know I was in. 

Friday, 4am, I met the bus. Loaded my board and bag underneath; brought my boots onboard to change quickly before we hit the mountain.  I walked on and was greeted by the surprised and thrilled faces of many athletes I have previously interpreted for and coached in soccer. Their enthusiasm is one of the many reasons I enjoy working with these athletes!  

Our six hour bus trip to the mountain in Wenatchee was chill; slept most of the way, as did the athletes.  It was four in the morning.

Mission Ridge was our destination. Although no fresh snow, the blue bird day was perfect for the athletes’ first time-trail. They zipped down that hill quickly; the best time from my team was :39 seconds (turned out to be the fastest time all weekend). Impressed more and more by these athletes every time I am privileged to see them compete: this course was steep! With icy turns hidden in the shade around a few flags.  

After the one run through on Friday, the head coach took both skiing and snowboarding teams to the top of the mountain: Mission Ridge.  It took about 45 minutes to get to the top: totally worth it.

In 1944, a military B-52 Liberator actually crashed on the ridge; no survivors.  We were able to see a part of the wing that was left on the mountaintop.  Pretty unique experience. Aaron was kind enough to interpret that story into ASL, read aloud by the head coach. See video below. Transcript available on Youtube.

The group headed down the slopes to our hotel, where SOWA had arranged a delicious and healthy meal for us. Relaxed a bit, and then lights out. 

Saturday morning: race day!  Athletes awoke at 6:30am; ate breakfast and loaded up the bus.  Quick drive to the lodge and we were in line on top, waiting for the race to begin.  

One run through for each competitor, and we went in for lunch…for a brief moment.  Apparently awards were starting! No time to eat!  

Round one of awards was done.  Up the mountain for the second competition. 

A few complaints, but everyone finished. No injuries.  The slushy snow was starting to turn icy.  We finished and headed back to the hotel. 

I could feel the energy as I headed back into my room.  Tonight, Saturday, was the dance.  Not only a dance, but wow! SOWA really stepped up their game this year….athletes were able to get their make-up put on, hair fixed up, nails painted, massages, play board games, sing karaoke, and participate in Healthy Athletes with an opportunity to win some sick new gear.  I am sure I am missing a few booths too…

I wandered a bit with the other coaches, played some card games; just enjoyed my time.

Back to bed and lights out by 11pm.  We had one more day of competition!

Sunday rolled around…I slept much better; must have been that fresh, crisp air!  Up we go to breakfast and on the bus.  The mountains are calling!

Two runs again today.  A delayed start…but soon the athletes were underway.  No lunch break; just two runs straight through.  A few disqualifications; a couple bad spills; overall, another successful day.  No big injuries and everyone had fun.

After the award ceremony, we were back to the bus and heading off to our home town!  Stopped for some pizza along the way….maybe not the healthiest, but delicious! And by far the easiest. 

Our bus driver, Nick, was a caring person and a joy to be around. A big thanks to him and all the SOWA staff for their work in making this another rewarding experience for Washington’s Special Olympians.

The past year has been a challenge to keep athletes connected, as all of SOWA’s activities have been virtual since last spring. Our soccer team’s season was cancelled in 2020 and now again in 2021, but we try to keep updated and in touch through our Facebook page. Looking forward to the time ahead when our athletes can once again compete!

-Kat Vickers

Comments 1

  1. Hi Kat! I really enjoyed your blog post. Reminded me of going to the mountains to downhill ski at Marmot Basin (before a broken leg slowed me down!)

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