The following post was written by Hailey Mukai and Keilana Hamper, a Special Olympics Unified pair from Special Olympics Washington. In July of 2018, Hailey and Keilana attended the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, Washington to participate in the Youth Leadership Experience (YLE). Along with Unified pairs from across the country, Hailey and Keilana were chosen for the YLE because of their leadership skills and passion for inclusion. Congrats on being named the #SOYouthOfTheWeek!
Hailey Mukai, Unified partner:
When I got the call from my mentor asking me if I wanted to be the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Youth Leadership Experience Unified pair for Team Washington along with my friend Keilana, it was a no brainer — I had to say yes!
The months leading up to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games seemed to fly by. I did not know what to expect from the USA Games. First and foremost, I was surprised by how truly amazing the week was. Each day provided a chance to grow and develop new relationships. Each experience was amazing, but the Opening Ceremony was one of my ultimate highlights! The energy I felt in Husky Stadium was like nothing I had felt before. Everyone was smiling and having fun. I will not forget the moment when the entire stadium was on their feet dancing and laughing together. The super talented Allen Stone had an amazing performance that got everybody pumped up for the following week of fun. Our delegation was even projected on the Jumbotron!
Once the Games started, we were going non-stop. Being a part of the Youth Leadership Experience (YLE) was the best way to experience the Games. I got to see so many different sides of the Games. I had the opportunity to interview many interesting people, met with distinguished leaders, and watched talented athletes from across the United States. Participating in YLE gave me memories I will remember for a lifetime.
I also learned a lot from that week. One of the most important things I learned was to not care what others think and to just be yourself. I have always been told this, but it wasn’t until one specific moment that this was made clear to me. That moment was when my friend and partner, Keilana, got up to dance in front of all the YLE pairs and their mentors. She did not have a care in the world! She was just being herself and having fun. To top it off, she even grabbed Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics, and told him to dance with her!
Keilana is the type of person I strive to be. There are so many characteristics that I have seen in her throughout the past year of being friends with her — especially her caring personality. She cares for others and if you have a bad day, she is the one who will cheer you up. Another feature I love about Keilana is her continuous smile and her willingness to always have fun. She is always the life of the party. Her smile is contagious! I am forever grateful to have spent the week at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games with Keilana and the Youth Leadership Experience team because now I have a lifelong friend and an increase of compassion and inclusion from my USA Games experience.
Keilana Hamper, Unified athlete:
The Youth Leadership Experience at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games was awesome! I got to meet many people and make friends. I got to meet celebrities and do fun stuff like play different sports. I liked going to different events and cheering for them.
The best part was when I got to make new friends. Another best part was hanging out with Hailey and meeting Apollo Ono. I got to go to the Fan Zone and play some games with other people from around the country.
I also learned new things. I got to learn about different sports. I learned that there are other Unified sports and not just basketball, soccer and tennis. I also learned how to play new sports, so I will play new sports.
Hanging out with Hailey was really fun. We got to be really close and learn new things together. Hailey is really nice. I love Hailey!
I learned that when you meet people, find something that you have in common like something that you like to eat or do and then you can become friends. This is something I will do in my life now after this experience!
Learn more about what Hailey, Keilana, and many youth pairs across the country accomplished during the Youth Leadership Experience by clicking HERE.