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Feb. 10, 2006

Special Olympics USA

National Games: the first time ever -- and in Ames

by Samantha Beres

When 15 semis pull onto campus carrying 850,000 bottles of water, Liz Kurt is the one who'll figure out where it will be stored. She's also the one who'll figure out how it'll be distributed. This is just one logistical puzzle of hundreds she'll piece together for an upcoming event: the first-ever Special Olympics (USA) National Games.

Iowa State's logistics experts for the
National Special Olympics

Iowa State's logistics experts for the National Special Olympics in July include (l-r): Les Lawson, ISU Facilities Planning and Management; Linda Crum, National Games sports director; Liz Kurt, National Games coordinator; Linda Brinkmeyer, National Games administrative assistant; and Doug Arrowsmith, Iowa State Recreation Services. Lawson and Arrowsmith are point people for planning that involves facilities and grounds or rec services. Photo by Bob Elbert.

The games, hosted by Iowa State and the Ames Convention & Visitors Bureau, will bring 3,200 athletes, 2,000 coaches and officials, 10,000 family members and 30,000 spectators from all 50 states to Ames. Ten thousand volunteers will work throughout the week-long event from Sunday, July 2, to Saturday, July 8.

It starts long before July

Planning for the games started three years ago. Six months ago, Kurt was brought in as coordinator (she's on loan from ISU's New Student Programs). With roughly 50,000 people coming to campus, she has a lot more to think about than bottled water.

Athletes will arrive at the Des Moines airport on July 1 as part of the Citation Special Olympics Airlift -- a plane will land or take off every 60 to 90 seconds during an 18-hour period. Companies and individuals donate their Citation business jets, pilots and fuel for the airlift.

Since carry-on luggage is limited, many athletes will mail things ahead, like bowling balls (one of the 12 sports). Prior to the athletes' arrival, Kurt will have figured out where the bowling balls and other mailed items should be sent and stored, and later, how to get them into the hands of athletes.

Special Olympians will stay in residence halls, and Kurt currently is thinking about how to get a fan in every room that doesn't have air conditioning. Add to that ordering and setting up 130 tents, receiving and storing athletic equipment like bocci courts and soccer nets, even creating forms for food orders. The list goes on and on.

"There's a million little details," said Kurt. "In my professional opinion, when the details are handled properly, it makes the experience better for the athletes, the family members, everybody."

Though the habit isn't special to this event, Kurt keeps a notepad by her bed. A few times a week when she's tossing and turning at 3 a.m., she scrolls notes to herself in the dark so she can go back to sleep.

Volunteers needed

While she may be the organizational brain behind the games, Kurt does not work alone. A full-time administrative support person and sports director make a team of three. There's also help from Iowa State, the Ames Convention & Visitors Bureau staff, Ames city employees and guidance from the Games Organizing Committee. But the week of the event, she'll rely on another 10,000 people.

Consider just one sports venue. Volunteers will do everything from setting up technological and sports equipment, to running scoreboards and announcements, to security, to presenting awards. For each site, there will be a sports team of volunteers, and a hospitality team.

"We need people running information tents. We need people helping athletes get on and off the buses, passing out lunches to volunteers," she said, adding that some people shy away because they don't know anything about sports. "That's the beauty of it. You can be shoulder to shoulder with the athlete and not know a thing about volleyball."

Let the games begin

In true Olympic form, the games will start with opening ceremonies and the lighting of the torch at The Festival Village, a transformed Hilton Coliseum. This will be the main hub of activity, the site of daily events throughout the week.

The Memorial Union will be transformed into Olympic Town, with ongoing activities for the athletes. It'll also be command central, where a representative from each state will work with Kurt to troubleshoot any problems.

For the 12 sporting events that happen over five days, there will be 15 sport venues. Thirteen sites are located in Ames, six of which are on campus. The other seven sites are Ames Golf and Country Club, Coldwater Golf Link, Ames Community Center, River Valley Park, Ames High School/Ames High Track and the Ames Middle School.

And why would basketball be held at the middle school instead of the Lied Center, where there are 20 courts? "When you're dealing with special Olympians, the sound of whistles alone could cause everyone to stop," Kurt said. The courts at the middle school, unlike Lied, are contained.

"All of these things we have to think through so the athletes can be successful participants," Kurt said.

Because Iowa State hosts Special Olympics Iowa every year, she said, this kind of awareness is already there. And that experience, along with what Ames as a small city has to offer, have been key in Iowa State and Ames being chosen to host the first-ever national games.

"The power we have for the size of our town is unbelievable," said Kurt. "The transportation system is great, we're small, we're safe and the community embraces our state Special Olympics, so we have a lot to offer." Including Liz Kurt, who joked that if someone wants to follow her around behind the scenes, they'd better wear roller skates.

Volunteers needed

Volunteers are asked to work a minimum of 12 hours (one full day or two half days). To register and read more about being a volunteer, go to the Web site or call 515-598-5600.


"In my professional opinion, when the details are handled properly, it makes the experience better for the athletes, the family members, everybody."

Liz Kurt