Sunday, May 18, 2014

Volunteering feels so good

Today we volunteered at the Special Olympics Florida Summer Games!!

Back in January, when we volunteered at the Marathon Weekend, I thought that we had enough hours to score a ticket (16 Hours = 1 Ticket), but we were never given credit for starting early (at 11:30 instead of 12:30), so we were an hour short...  I checked out the ESPN Wide World of Sports Volunteer website regularly and saw this opportunity.  It was a quick day (only a few hours) and we weren't under blackout days yet with our APs, so we could hit a park afterward.  I went ahead and signed up the family (after checking that they wanted to do so) for "Sports Event Volunteer." I didn't know what it entailed - it was pretty vague.

So, yesterday morning, we got dressed and headed out at the crack of dawn and made our way to the ESPN Wide World of Sports. With donuts, of course.

We didn't see any signage when we got there for where we were supposed to park, so we parked in the general parking lot and headed towards the Stadium.

Beautiful sunrise at the ESPN Wide World of Sports
This way!
Our first task was to sign in, using the credentials we got in the mail. The credentials also had our name tags on them, but there were no name tag holders left, so we couldn't wear a name tag.

Next, we were given a slip of paper with our assignment on it - we were assigned to help out at the Soccer Fields. 

The stop after that was to pick up our shirts. They were basic white tees - not too thick though, which is always good in Florida weather!

I'm both!
After the tee-shirts, there was another place to make name tags (blank tags and Sharpie markers), as well as some bug spray and sunblock.  The three of us went inside the bathrooms nearby to change clothes, and then I took all our various stuff back to the car. I was originally confused, and though that I signed up for Healthy Athletes Volunteer, which is inside, so I'd brought my sweater and bottles of water and such.  Now that I knew we would be outside, we needed to grab our hats and sunglasses from the car, too. I grabbed those and headed back to the Stadium.
We found where we were supposed to go, and it turned out that we were just going to be sitting there until we were led to our designated area. In the stadium bleachers there were sections for Soccer, Bike, Intramural and something else that I can't remember.  We took a seat in the Soccer section.

I saw Maryanne and one of her daughters in the soccer section - she's a Princess Posse gal.  I kind of avoided her since Hubby is a dick about the Posse.

After about 10 minutes, our Team Leaders came down, and lo and behold - one of the Team Leaders was Debbie - she of the "I Do What I Want" fame from Marathon Packet Prep.  Oh, Jesus help me.

At one point, we realized that we didn't pick up our Snack Bag (Disney always gives you a snack if you volunteer), so we left our seats to go in search of where to get them.

We had to upstairs to the Mezzanine Level, where there were some tables set up.

Makeshift cafeteria to grab breakfast - tables with food is on the right
It's hard to see in the photo above, but there is a long table that has water and white sacks on it.  Each of us picked up a water (there were cold ones at the end, so I ended up with two waters) and a sack.  I asked if each sack contained the same items and was told yes.

Wheelchair Lady (forgive me, but I can't remember her name!) was one of the volunteers manning the snack table. We worked with her at Packet Prep in January and it was good to see her again. We told her that Debbie was our Team Leader and we all just laughed at the irony.

Back downstairs, we got there just in time, because our section was heading off to the Soccer Fields.  We hung back, so we wouldn't have to deal with Debbie (she really is that terrible of a person, I'm not kidding...) and when we got to the first set of fields, we all gathered around (there was probably 40 people there) and the other Team Leader started divvying everyone up.

I don't remember what the first batch of volunteers were, but they were with Debbie so there was no way in hell that we were going to volunteer for whatever it was.

The second thing she requested was escorts. We hung back, waiting to see what the last option was. Which backfired on us!  Once all the escorts were chosen, she told us that everyone else would go to Debbie. DAMMIT!

The three of us asked if, perhaps, she could use three more escorts. I kind of shot a 'look' towards Debbie, which the other team leader picked up on. She gave me a bit of a nod and said that yes, we should go be escorts.  Win!

So, we took off towards the second set of fields, catching up with everyone who was already there.

We really couldn't have asked for better weather - moderate heat, low humidity, gorgeous day
There were a few sets of bleachers under a covered area. We had to move them around a bit (some were facing the wrong way, for instance). We also had to chase away some of the Track spectators from our bleachers.  Alachua County was representing today!

Woo hoo, Alachua County!
Once that was done, we just needed to wait for our next Team Leader. We chose to use the time to take dorky photos and eat some of our snacks.

We each got water, a muffin, trail mix, granola bar and other goodies
After about 10 minutes another lady showed up - she was in charge of whatever it was we were going to do. We'll call her Nancy. She began to divvy us up further into groups of people who would take the athletes to the Winner's Tent, people who would accompany athletes around the field, and people who would be in charge of the paperwork.

The three of us chose to be Field escorts.We would be responsible for taking one athlete on to the field to do three Skill Drills, tallying their scores and returning them to the bleachers. There were three groups of females and five groups of males. Each group would be called at one time, then one at a time, each athlete would do three drills.

The first drill was to kick 5 balls into the goal, from a short distance.  They would get 10 points for each ball that made it in to the goal. If all balls made it in, they got 50 points.

Put a check-mark or X next to each kick they got in the goal
The second drill was to dribble (kick while running) the ball down a length of the field, then stop the ball at the end, without going out of bounds.  Points were determined by how long it took them to perform the task. There were other volunteers who were there with stopwatches.

The numbers on the left indicate how many seconds. We would write the actual time at the bottom, in case of a tie
The third drill sounded really confusing, but it was simple. The athlete would stand in the center of a cross-shaped area, and, while running, kick 4 balls in 4 different goals (think 1 kick to the North, 1 to the South, etc).  Points were awarded by how long it took them to complete the task. If the ball made it into the goal, you got bonus points.

Again, the numbers on the left represent seconds
Once my athlete completed their task, I would bring them back to the bleachers and wait for everyone in their group to finish. Generally there were anywhere from 7-15 people in a group (usually closer to 7).

First up was the ladies. Because there were so many escort volunteers, I don't think I got an athlete until the second group of ladies. Her name was Martha, and she was great! She'd been there before and knew what she was supposed to do.  She did her three tasks and then we went back to the bleachers. She was the only female athlete I got to escort.  I don't recall what place she came in (they went 1st - 5th), but I remember that she got a medal!

Looking out across the field (no the sprinklers didn't affect us at all)
Up next were the males!  It seemed to go by age. My first athlete was a tiny little guy who looked like he couldn't be more than 5. He didn't talk and wore large headphones to block out sounds (his mom took them off when it was time to play).  He held my hand everywhere we walked, and when we got to each station, he didn't even wait - he just starting kicking! He was a sweetheart, and his parents were surprised how well he got along with me. (I found out later, that even though he looked like a small-for-his-age 5 year old, he was actually NINE! Lord help me - it felt like I was going to break him, just looking at him.)

My next guy was was a Latino guy, probably in his mid-twenties?  He didn't talk either, and didn't come out of his shell enough to even really acknowledge that I was there (which is fine). He did okay.

My third guy was Ethan. Ethan was a handful. For most athletes, parents and coaches are not allowed on the field. But for some, the coach was allowed. For Ethan, it was allowed, because the coach also acted as a bit of a wrangler - Ethan was a bag full of LET'S GO!, and she had to kind of hang on to him to make sure he didn't go running around. He didn't do very well kicking the five balls, but he did okay at the four in a cross. However, he was way too kick-happy in the dribble task.  Instead of lightly kicking the ball down the field, he whammed that sucker as far as his foot would kick it!  He was having so much fun, but not doing the actual task. It took a few minutes to get that done, and then we all walked back to the bleachers.

My last guy was (I think) Chris. He was a Down's Syndrome guy.  He seemed to be more 'functional' for lack of a PC term. He was able to walk and talk without any sort of assistance. No hand-holding was necessary. He was also very chatty, but hard to understand. He said that he'd done this before and that he really liked soccer. I think he said I reminded him of his mom.  After the three tasks were done, and we were walking back to the bleachers, he told me he loved me, so I thanked him and said that I liked him too.

After each group, the scores on the pink sheets were added up and the top 5 athletes from the group were taken to the Awards Tent. Not all my folks got awards, but I know that Tiny Guy, Ethan and Chris got awards! Way to go, guys!

Once all the groups had been taken to the Awards Tent, and this part of the games were over, Nancy sent us back to check-out, as we were done.  I think we were done by noon.

After we left ESPN we took a quick side-trip to Animal Kingdom Lodge for a tour. To me, it felt like an exact replica of Wilderness Lodge, but now with 100% more Africa! I didn't get an "oooooh, I wanna stay here!" feeling at all. Yes, the lobby is gorgeous, and the wall of windows is breathtaking. The restaurants downstairs looked nice (I don't think my picky eaters are ready for Jiko yet).  I found it weird that the counter-service place, The Mara, is not connected to the main lobby at all. I was impressed by the animals I could see on the savannah, even at high noon. I was also impressed by the massive amounts of gardenia bushes (I stole a flower!). All in all, I think we left after 20 minutes. I just didn't dig it. (But, if given the choice between a Value and Animal Kingdom Lodge, I'd pick AKL!).

We left AKL, and headed over to Wilderness Lodge - the RIGHT Lodge.  We told the security at the gate that we were there for a visit, which we were. We wanted to visit the boat dock!

We parked and walked through the Lodge, which always makes me want to just plop down on one of the comfy chairs, but we had fastpasses to burn, APs to renew and lunch to eat!

All the transportation!  Boats, Boats and Monorails!
At the Magic Kingdom, we had to get in this hellacious line at Guest Services (unfortunately, we couldn't renew at Animal Kingdom Lodge - trust me, we tried!) to renew our Annual Passes.  It was a hot, slow-moving line, and there was a woman in the line who kept bitching about biometrics and how her tickets don't work. Okay, lady, just shut up about it already! The LINE can't help you, DISNEY can help you.

So long..... so hot.... so annoying....
We almost didn't get our APs renewed because Hubby's ID had expired and we had no idea! Oops!  The lady was a hard-ass, but after a bit, she changed her mind and gave us the "I'll do it this time" speech. Oh, thank goodness. So, we're AP-holders again until March 2015!

After that crazy line, I was STARVING! What's for lunch?

Lunch was electric cheese. Well, it was other stuff too, but I had a hankering for that hot, fake, burn-your-fingers liquid cheese sauce that can only be found at a few places in the World (Disney World, that is!).  We settled on Pecos Bill because 1) none of us wanted chicken nuggets (PB doesn't have nuggets, Cosmic Ray's does) and 2) I wanted a Kid's Meal burger (Cosmic Ray's doesn't do kid's burgers, PB does).

Adult Burger with Fries (ironically no Electric Cheese in this photo)
Kid's Meal comes with a dessert!  For $5 I get a burger, fries, cookie AND drink! Can't beat that!
By the time we got there, it was pushing 2pm, so I was surprised that it was as busy as it was.  Crazy lines, full tables everywhere - this is why people 'hate' Disney!  Of course, this is why we rarely GO when the park is this crowded. I don't like people that much!

We found a good table by the windows (a big table, too!), and I dug into my little burger (that I turned into a cheeseburger with some shredded cheese from the toppings bar), and scarfed down my french fries, all gooey with electric cheese.

After we finished, it was really close to 3, so of course, I asked Hubby, "What time is the 3 o'clock parade?" and then we all headed out to find a spot. Since it was crazy busy, we ended up on the bridge that goes in front of Splash, kind of shoved up behind a trash can.

Okay... I'm rarely speechless, but .... WOW!  These floats are amazing!  Check these out! (Some of these photos are cropped weirdly, due to a dad who decided to plop his kiddo on his shoulders, to the annoyance of everyone behind him.)

Belle and Beast open the parade
Cinderella (never "Cindy") and Prince Charming are next
Everyone's favorite Princess and Queen - Anna and Elsa
Ulf, the Mime from Tangled - I guess he likes the parade; he's never told me otherwise
Rapunzel with her frying pan (who knew?) - You can also see a free-swinging character behind her
Maximus and Flynn Rider swing freely from the center of the float (hard to tell here...)
Next up - Ariel
Walking Characters - They are Seahorses (I think they are held on like a backpack), and they spin
Peter and Wendy - this photo doesn't do the float justice at ALL
Cap'n Hook swings freely from an anchor underneath the float
Merida from Brave - her float is a giant set of bagpipes, and her brother (bears) are in the tenor drones
The STAR of this parade - Maleficent, the Steam Punk Dragon - it breathes FIRE!
Thorn-clad stilt walkers attacking Prince Phillip
Another shot of Maleficent in all her Steam-Punk glory
One more shot of Maleficent - these photos don't show the MASSIVENESS of the dragon at all
White Rabbit, Alice, Dwarfs, Jiminy Cricket, Snow White and Circus Walkers
Pinocchio's Float and Pink Elephants
Daisy and Donald (and a tiny Timothy Mouse)
Swinger on the back end of the Pinocchio Float (she looked kind of 'drag'gy)
Big Top Circus Tent Walkers (Am I the only one thinking Katy Perry here?)
The Big Cheese - Mickey and Minnie - and sadly, the end of the parade
Once we finished checking out the parade, it was time for our Big Thunder FastPass+, so we headed that way! The family loves to wave at ANYONE at Disney, but especially on BTMRR.

Ah, a rare sighting in the wild - a smiling teenager
I like to sit behind them to get photos, both of them together (especially since they are generally "don't take my photo" kind of people), and photos of the ride.

I try to take a photo here every time - I love how it looks

She's so NOT gangster, no matter how hard she tries!
Love taking this shot too - Space Mountain, the Castle and Big Thunder all together
After the ride, I noticed a small hole in the rocks near the upper exit (did you even realize that BTMRR had two exits?), and saw that it was a really cool vantage point for more photos, so I hung out and grabbed a few cool shots.

Peek-a-boo! I see a runaway mine train coming directly at me!
After Big Thunder, we made our way over to the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - they were currently testing it out by letting Cast Members ride (but it wasn't open yet for the General Public).  It looks like a lot of fun - I can't wait to ride it!

Some CMs rode this ride non-stop for HOURS!
Hubby saw this while I was taking photos from different areas, and I had to include it here, for the humor.
Do you see it?  I think the hag was here...
It was a long day, but a satisfying one, that sadly needed to come to an end. We'd been up since before sunrise, and we still had to drive home, so we packed it in, returned to Wilderness Lodge and made our way to Hess for gas and grub.

Hey, does anyone know if Hess serves Gas Station Nachos? I was just thinking that, even though Hess has a lot of options (Dunkin' Donuts, Gas Station Pizza, U-Make Milkshakes), I've never seen those.... I may have to check next time I'm there - I love my Electric Cheese!!

With no nachos that visit, I ended up with a bag of chips or something, and a "safe" soda (I recently quit drinking soda) - I think it was Sprite Zero mixed with Minute Maid Light Lemonade and Strawberry Lemonade. The drive home was uneventful, but the bed sure did feel good!