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They Became Our Inspiration
What Greece learned by hosting the Special Olympics World Championship

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Ioannis "Yanni" Karalis '06

Being a former athlete who has spent a big part of his life on the basketball court, the track and the weight rooms, I know very well the sacrifices that one needs to make in order to fulfill his dream of competing at the highest possible level. At UNH, I had the pleasure to work with people who were passionate about their job and who pushed me to my physical and mental limits. I learned to work hard and with consistency day after day, practice after practice. That being said, nothing I did or learned can compare with the time I spent in Portsmouth working with the New Hampshire Special Olympics.

Every year in my four years at UNH, we spent a day playing basketball with the athletes of the New Hampshire Special Olympics. They allowed us to spend a day with them and share their passion for sports; they gave us love; and they inspired us. Since then, whenever I felt there was nothing else to give, when my desire to keep trying was very low, I would think of what one of these athletes told me one early morning in Portsmouth: "Coach Yanni, are you tired? Because the day has just started and I am full of energy to play ball!" Their desire to keep going was so high that when I think about it I cannot even think of "cutting corners" and not trying as hard.

Now, five years after I graduated from UNH, I am back in my native Greece where I am working as a sport marketing executive. My company was involved with the Special Olympics World Championship 2011 in Athens. I got the opportunity to interact with athletes from all over the world, and for one more time to be inspired by their love for sport, their desire to compete and win, and their determination to overcome themselves. The city of Athens and the whole country, regardless of the tough times we have been going through, were excited to have these world class athletes here. They became our inspiration, our motivation, and an example of everything good that we should be aiming towards as human beings. They do not judge, they do not blame anybody, and they do not give up. They are always smiling, and they always have a positive thing to say.

Greece has been going through some really tough times, and many of our compatriots are suffering due to high unemployment, and lack of financial resources. The crisis has hit the country hard and we are still trying to figure out how to get out of it. But Greece honored the Special Olympics movement, and these athletes honored us and I hope that when they go back to their countries, they will have only good things to say about their experience in Greece. Regardless of what is written or said about our country, Greece is still a country that everybody is welcome, regardless of where they come from and what their background is.

The 2011 Special Olympics World Games allowed us to interact with extraordinary people and athletes, and we are proud to say that we worked with them and for them. The Special Olympics movement relies on volunteering and I urge you all, regardless of where in the United States or the world you are, to try and see how you can help these athletes. Trust me, it is a rewarding experience.

Yanni Karalis '06 was a member of the men's basketball team—the first international player in the history of the basketball program—and is currently working as a sports marketing executive in Greece.

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