Sunday, February 23, 2014

Winter Olympics, Amate-style!

The following is a reflection by Matt Schultz, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

Hey there, Amate Universe! If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately (or have had the privilege of living in this arctic paradise) then you’ve noticed that in the last few months the cold, windy nights and cloudy days of the imminent Chicago winter have transformed into the frozen “polar vortexes” that now, unfortunately, seem all too familiar to the Amate volunteers and… well, normal. As a Los Angeles native I’d have never expected to be admitting this, but yes, it’s normal to feel the hairs in my nostrils literally start to freeze and the bite of the -20 degree wind-chill smack me awake every morning as I walk to the train for work. So normal that 30 degree weather now brings back the same sensations I remember from spending summers on the beaches of Long Beach. But enough about the weather, as my grandpa likes to remind me, “It’s Chicago! What the hell were you expecting?” Oh grandpa, so wise!

As a college student, like many of the current volunteers, I was heavily involved and often found myself spending more time working on large student events for my resid
ents and peers than working on actual course work (sorry Mom). Don’t get me wrong, I loved class, but I soon discovered I was even more passionate about creating fun and engaging experiences that allowed me and my peers to deepen our relationships and, dare I say it, build community! Waaah? No way!  I know, crazy right? Well, it’s true and my Amate experience has been no different. So all this weather, all this snow and ice and frost, it hasn’t prevented me from enjoying this post-graduate service adventure. Instead it gave me an idea, an opportunity to take advantage of the sub-zero serenity that is Chicago while bringing the Amate volunteers together. So on January 25th, 2014, a new tradition was born as Amate athletes traveled from all corners of Chicagoland to McKinley Park to compete for the Gold in the inaugural 2014 Amate Winter Olympic Games!

Per Olympic tradition, the games opened up with a Parade of Champions as 26 volunteers, each representing our home nations (our houses), marched from South House (this year’s host country) to the neighborhood park dressed in our national uniforms and waving the flags of our homeland. Next was the National Anthem, led by South House’s very own Angie Hall, quickly followed by a super-realistic torch lighting ceremony (crafted from red and yellow construction paper obviously, we are Amate volunteers after all). Jasmine Hill’s ‘lighting’ of the Olympic torch was met with thunderous applause and cheers as competitors were gearing up for the first event of the games, Tandem-Relay Speed Skating at the McKinley Park ice rink! The racers all lined-up at their starting positions, tensions high as national pride and bragging rights were on the line. The officials, teens from the local church’s youth ministry program, counted down,” 3, 2, 1, GO!” Just like that, the games had officially begun! Witnessing the pure insanity and joy that ensued as the games continued throughout the evening was, simply put, awesome! The competitions ranged from Team Figure Skating to Hockey Shoot-Outs, a Chili Cook-Off to an Ice Cream Eating Contest, and Amate Jeopardy to a full-fledged game of Settlers of Catan! 
Each Olympic event required a certain number of athletes from each nation to compete, allowing everyone a shot at the Gold!

As the three nations battled it out, competitors were awarded with Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals for their efforts while posing on the national podium for a swarm of adoring fans as the members of each winning nation burst-out in the national anthems (made-up chants) of their respective countries. With the closing of each competition, a national medal count was tallied on the wall of our South House living room to give on-lookers a real-time view of the leaderboard; after all, there was the coveted Amate Winter Olympic Trophy on the line!

The Amate Winter Olympics brought more than just dramatic finishes, come-from-behind victories, and legendary athletic feats of strength and wit that will live-on forever in the minds of every volunteer present. The games brought us more than this; they brought us pure and simple fun. If you were to ask me or any Amatian about our service sites, the challenges and triumphs we experience each and every week, well we’d have plenty to talk about. In fact, you’d probably be in for more than you bargained for. Instead, next time you are speaking to the Amatian in your life, I implore you to ask them about their housemates, the insanely eclectic, weird, hilarious, quirky, talented, awkward, passionate, and strange group of people we spend nearly every day of our lives with here.  Ask us about the silly conversations we have around a dinner table, the spontaneous dance parties we throw in our living rooms, or the random adventures we have on the weekends. Because at the end of this year, when I think back to this amazing, challenging, life-changing year I spent in community with Amate, the last thing I’ll think about was the -20 degree weather. Instead, I’ll fondly remember moments like the Amate Winter Olympics… and when South House took home the GOLD MEDAL TROPHY, WHAH WAAAH!