In their own words: Marcy Hirshberg reflects on the 2022 Special Olympics
Marcy Hirshberg is the chair of the USTA national adaptive tennis committee. In this first-person essay, she recounts her experiences playing tennis as a unified partner with teammates Allison Ferrer, Matthew Knowles and Anthony Knowles in the Georgia state delegation at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, held in Orlando, Fla. from June 5-10. At the competition, unified partners, who are individuals without intellectual disabilities, train and compete as a teammate alongside Special Olympics athletes on a unified sports team.
Who knew what to expect? Certainly not me. Although I have worked with adaptive athletes on court for many years and played tennis as a unified partner before, the national games was so much more. It was getting to know my teammates; sharing meals, practices, and laughter; answering the same questions many times and saying, "I don't know" in response even more.
I went home with a new appreciation for determination, patience and for those experts and volunteers that handle logistics for very large groups. It all started in the morning with breakfast for hundreds of athletes and being greeted with so many smiles and good mornings from bowlers, soccer players, swimmers, wrestlers, weightlifters and coaches I had never met. After finishing breakfast, it was on to the bus area and figuring out which line to get in to get to the correct venue. Thanks to dozens of volunteers standing in the hot Florida sun in a parking lot all day, there were no missed buses or lost athletes.
At the USTA National Campus in Orlando, we were greeted with more smiling volunteers as we checked in and found our courts for the day. Yes, there was lots of waiting around as the heat index and some lightening prohibited us from playing, and there were two very long days. However, the athletes didn't seem to notice.
My teammates were so excited about being there, meeting their opponents and cheering each other on that delays, scheduling snafus, occasional food that wasn’t to our liking, little sleep and sweltering temperatures didn't phase them.
We had two Disney adventures as well with a night at Magic Kingdom and another at Animal Kingdom. As I was thinking about our bus driver who missed the drop-off entrance to the park three times, and the many match delays that morning, the athlete sitting next to me said, "Have you ever been on such a nice bus? Wasn't this the best day ever?" That was quite a wake-up call for me to focus on spending time with great people and not on the little things that weren't going perfectly.
My last match competing for a medal, my partner Allison and I had to play our own teammates: Matt and his father, Tony. Our coach Viola, who had done a great job running practices and giving all of us tips, had to sit on the bench this time watching but unable to coach. Matt was very nervous competing against his friend Allison and had a slow start. We won the first short set 4-0. However, Tony and Matt came roaring back and took the second, 4-1. Time for the tiebreak!
Tony and I had the same mindset: It was up to the athletes at this point to win it or lose it. Allison came up with some great serves and returns, and we took the tiebreak 10-6 and won the silver medal.
Both of our teams got whipped by a team from Arizona, so Tony and Matt captured the bronze. Matt went on to win the gold in singles, and Allison the bronze. Coach Viola was proud of all of us!
I made some fantastic new friends and went home seeing everything around me in a slightly different way. Smiling at people I don't know, being patient in a long line, going out of my way to encourage new players trying to improve, and acknowledging my opponent's good shots, all lessons learned from my Team Georgia Special Olympics teammates.