2020 Endeavor Games: A Virtual Experience

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Posted by Cassidhe Walker on 06/18/2020

The Endeavor Games for Athletes with Physical Disabilities was first held in 2000 on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma. Different than the Special Olympics, the athletes at the Endeavor Games have physical impairments (i.e. amputation, limb loss, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, etc.), not cognitive/intellectual ones. The goal was simple; to provide children, adults and military service members with physical disabilities an opportunity to display their talents in a proper and competitive setting against individuals with similar disabilities. The competition continued to grow, and in 2017 we expanded to a second site in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We have become one of the largest multi-sport, multi-disability competitions in the country.

Two weeks ago, we hosted the 21st annual Endeavor Games, and due to the coronavirus pandemic, these Games certainly looked a lot different than the previous 20.

In a typical year, the weekend goes like this: Thursday, we hold nine sport clinics—these clinics allow the athletes to learn from and work with elite coaches in each sport. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are dedicated to competition—we have eleven different sport competitions during these three days, including wheelchair basketball, archery, swimming, sitting volleyball, and track and field. Over the course of the weekend, we offer five events for the athletes, and the staff, to share a meal, play games, and build community. Including UCO, we use five venues across Edmond, and we could have between 250-300 participants any given year.

Preparation for this year’s Games was moving along as usual until the middle of March. Everything began closing across the country, and all but a few other adaptive sport competitions were forced to make the difficult to decision to cancel. We gave ourselves a May 1 deadline to figure out what to do, but just a couple of weeks into April, it became very clear that we would not be able to host the Games as normal. Ultimately, we adjusted our mindset, chose to think outside the box, and decided to try our hand at a virtual Games—the first competition of our kind to do so.

What we decided on was a joint effort Endeavor Games with our counterparts in Indiana. We would offer 14 sport clinics, including several new-to-us sports like wheelchair rugby and nordic skiing (first time we’ve ever offered a winter sport!), and a Welcome Party via Zoom; we would issue nine individual challenges in different sports; we would offer a team challenge and e-sports. Athletes would self-report their results and send us pictures of them completing their individual and team challenges.

So, then we had a plan, but we also had a lot of questions. Would athletes sign up? Would we be able to pull this off? How do we even make this all happen on Zoom? Given that all of this is completely unparalleled, there is no way to totally know what you’re doing. When there’s no precedent, you just take leap of faith, follow your passion, and figure it out as you go.

We launched our plan/registration three weeks before the Games were set to begin, and the response was truly unbelievable. We could have never imagined that we’d end up with over 460 registrants, representing 43 states, two US territories, and seven countries. We were so nervous, but the feedback we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive—our athletes, as well as our athletes’ parents, have expressed their gratitude for providing a sport outlet and a sense of normalcy during this time. Everyone has been so appreciative and patient while we navigated this virtual format. As the athletes started sending their pictures in, all those questions we were asking fell away. Seeing them engaged in sport, and with smiles on their faces, made it all worth it. Our athletes needed it, they deserve it, and they’re the reason we do what we do.

The Endeavor Games is a staple in the summers of our athletes, but also in those of our staff. We can’t imagine a June without the Games (and we hope we never have to!). We believe that sport has the power to change lives, and we know we’re better as a team—even if that team can only be together via Zoom. We’re hopeful we’ll be back in-person for the 2021 Endeavor Games next June, and we’d love to have you join us!

Cassidhe Walker
Coordinator, Adaptive Sports and Events, University of Central Oklahoma
Chairwoman, Edmond Young Professionals

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