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Gold Medal Experience

News Story

From New York to Los Angeles to Rio, Carolyn Phillips’ internship with Special Olympics New York and passion for volunteering and the Olympics is changing her life one game at a time.

Swimming, soccer, diving, and horseback riding. Carolyn Phillips ’17 has tried them all in pursuit of becoming an Olympic athlete, a dream of hers since childhood. Unfortunately, Phillips admits that those talents never quite took off; so instead, she found an alternative way to get into the Games: her career.

An active member of the Pace Community, Phillips keeps her schedule packed as a volunteer, blogger, and a leader in the Pforzheimer Honors College, where she has served as president of the Honors Council, editor-in-chief of its award-winning newsletter, a peer leader, and a student aide, just to name a few—all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA in political science with a triple minor in history, management, and nonprofit studies. While most students might stop to take a breath after all of that on a day-to-day basis, Phillips continues on to a place where she’s able to combine all of her skills, interests, and passions for a cause she believes in.

Since spring 2015, Phillips has worked at Special Olympics New York, the largest chapter of Special Olympics in North America and the sixth largest in the world. As a development and special projects intern, she helps grow partnerships and support for the chapter’s events and initiatives, and meets inspirational athletes along the way. Thanks to a supervisor there, Phillips had the opportunity this summer to volunteer at the Special Olympics World Games, hosted in the same Los Angeles arena as two other Olympic Games in the past.

Expected to be the largest humanitarian and sports event of 2015, the World Games brought Phillips together with more than 500,000 spectators, athletes, coaches, and volunteers from nearly 170 countries—including First Lady Michelle Obama; Olympians Michael Phelps, Michelle Kwan, Nadia Comăneci, and Greg Louganis; and restauranteur and inspirational speaker Tim Harris for the Opening Ceremony and Flame of Hope cauldron-lighting.

Not surprisingly, Phillips says the Opening Ceremony was one of the most moving experiences of her time there. “It’s kind of perfect that the flame is called the ‘Flame of Hope,’ because everything about Special Olympics is hope-based,” she says. “The fact that the Flame of Hope went into the same place where the 1984 and 1932 Olympics were held, and they lit the same cauldron and had the same torch means that the Special Olympics, the Olympics, and the Paralympics all require the same amount of ability.”

Volunteering as a Fan Zone attendant, Phillips’ responsibilities during the Games included checking in athletes, coaches, and spectator groups, and distributing Special Olympics pins to guests, which is a unique tradition at all Olympic Games. “People bring pins from their home countries or their state and then they trade them at the Games,” she explains.

Stocked with Special Olympics pins from her supervisor in New York, Phillips set out to meet and trade with athletes and fans alike. One of her favorite pins she collected is from the 1996 Athens Olympics, which she received from an Olympic historian who’s been to 15 Games. “I actually went to the 1996 Athens Games; I was one-year-old. My parents remember it and they also have pins from 1996, so that was cool,” she says.

In addition to making meaningful connections with people from across the globe, Phillips had the chance to cheer on familiar faces that she’d seen train and compete in the months leading up to the Games. Her experience came full circle in the Team USA stands as she rooted for Special Olympics New York athletes with strangers who shared her pride and support.

“Volunteering at the Special Olympics World Games changed my life,” she says, “by showing me how big the world really is, how much more I want to do and see, how much I love helping and interacting with people, and how inspiring the human spirit can be.”

Though the Special Olympics World Games have concluded, Phillips’ work and motivation are hardly winding down. She’s already attended and assisted at Special Olympics New York Fall State Games and other regional games through her internship; she has been recognized by the Pace Community as a leader in public service with a Jefferson Award Bronze Medal; and has even met and interviewed Olympic diver Greg Louganis for her blog “The Olympics of Blogs.”

But of all the gold medal experiences Phillips has had since the start of her internship, there’s one more that’s still on the horizon: Rio 2016. With tickets to seven events already, and—you guessed it—a volunteering position secured, Phillips will attend her first Olympic Games since 1996. “I am ready to see what I have dreamed about for so long.”

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