A really unique atmosphere

A really unique atmosphere


Olaf Jäger-Roschko supported the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin as a volunteer – and gained something for himself in the process.

In the Special Olympics people with intellectual and multiple disabilities compete against each other in a range of sports, including in international events that take place every four years. The goal of this international competition is to help provide people with intellectual disabilities with more recognition, self-confidence and social participation.

The 2023 international games were held in Berlin, and also included sailing competitions which took place southeast of the centre, on Wannsee Lake. Olaf Jäger-Roschkos oversaw and supported the sailing competition as a volunteer: “Every morning we helped athletes get out onto the water.”

Before the competition got going, there were fantastic celebrations to enjoy. “The opening event was really impressive, with contagiously joyful anticipation and an exuberant atmosphere,” Olaf reported. That is when it became clear to everyone that this would be a truly special olympic games.

The athletes had never been on boats that could capsize before. They would normally take to the water on keelboats, but on this occasion they were equipped with dinghies with centreboards because plans had to be rapidly adapted after a supplier pulled out at short notice. This unfamiliar mode of sailing inspired some concern and meant that volunteers had to offer reassurance on occasion, which they were able to do. All of this created a special atmosphere in which all participants saw themselves as one big team, talking and working together in a spirit of mutual respect.

For everyone, the mood got better with each day. One part of this was in assisting with boarding the boats and during the races, and the other thing was the atmosphere on shore. At one point the volunteers lined up on the jetty to welcome the sailors with a Mexican wave: “That really boosted spirits.”

A unique experience

After racing most participants had a lot of emotions going on – some were very proud of their victories while others were annoyed about errors. Right from the outset they represented a really diverse group, with some who had severe disabilities and needed more intensive support, and other participants who were autistic for example, and largely independent. But each of them was exceptional in their own way. There was a great atmosphere across the whole group, and everyone involved ate together. Every day ended with an award ceremony at which all participants were celebrated.

As the days progressed, any uncertainty and distantness vanished: it became clear, to athletes and volunteers, that establishing closeness to people who were previously unfamiliar can be really wonderful. This fantastic atmosphere continued throughout the week. “It was a unique experience to be part of this community,” said Olaf.

A different type of getaway

Olaf feels it was well worth taking part – and not just for him but his wife too, who also helped with the games and was equally swept up in the unique spirit of the event.

Volunteers can request special leave for this kind of activity, though Olaf and his wife simply used their normal holiday. “It was a totally different type of getaway for us, and my mind was completely clear. I immersed myself in another world, and was surrounded by people who all had a positive outlook.”

In summary, Olaf said: “Volunteering at the Special Olympics is an extraordinary experience that I can recommend to anyone. I learned a great deal in that week and now I feel much better equipped when interacting with people with disabilities. I feel less shy and more confident in offering help.”