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OT Student at Special Olympics in China

OT Student Volunteers at Special Olympics in China

For Jennifer Kunzweiler, the thought of serving as a volunteer at the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China, had … well … a nice ring to it.

Her mother suggested the idea, while the two were discussing possible professional rotations for Jennifer’s final semester in Creighton’s occupational therapy program. (OT students at Creighton select their own rotations with faculty supervision and approval.)

At first, Jennifer was surprised by the suggestion. She couldn’t believe that her mother – who she describes as “super protective” – would recommend that her daughter travel overseas … to China. The process was also highly selective – with only 150 international volunteers being chosen.

Perhaps, mother and daughter each prayed something along the lines of the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Her mother’s idea shouldn’t have come as too much of a shock, though.

The Kunzweiler family has always carried a torch, so to speak, for the Special Olympics. Jennifer has an aunt with Down syndrome, and her family has been active in the organization.

“The energy around this project just felt really good,” said Kunzweiler, who received her OTD degree from Creighton in December. “It was God’s hand at work.”

Faster … Higher … Stronger … while that may be the Olympic mantra, it didn’t necessarily apply to Jennifer’s application process.

She applied in March 2006, and then waited. It would be more than a year before she finally learned that she was selected. But it was worth the wait.

“This was the experience of a lifetime,” Kunzweiler said.

She arrived in China on Sept. 30 and did some sightseeing before the Oct. 2-11 Games. During the Games, she worked in the Main Family Support Center – providing snacks and general assistance to families from around the globe. Some 7,500 athletes from 160 countries competed in 25 sports at the Summer Games.

“Everybody was so accepting. You would greet people with a hug and kiss. In fact, I had some ladies from Egypt and Africa who asked me to come and visit them in their home countries,” Kunzweiler said.

Kunzweiler attended both the opening (a four- to five-hour affair) and closing ceremonies at Shanghai Stadium. She also took note of the country’s cultural views of disability – comparing and contrasting Chinese and American values. That work was part of her rotation studies and report.

The 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games will be held in Boise, Idaho, with the 2011 Summer Games planned for Athens, Greece. Kunzweiler, who graduated in December, will undoubtedly ring those dates on her calendar – as the Special Olympics flame now burns brightly in her heart.

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