Special Olympics Alaska
We came back to Baltimore for one day, then headed to one of our favorite places, Anchorage, Alaska. The first two days were rainy, but the weekend for Special Olympics events lead to some beautiful, sunny Alaska skies, with temps in the 60's. (It's almost as if we never left, because we were just there in February for the Winter Games!)
The Opening Ceremonies was held outside at the Town Square Park, a very pretty location in downtown Anchorage. I was honored to be able to sing the "Alaska Flag Song", and then, with the help of Ginny and Andre, (two Special Olympics athletes), "You Are the Flame". We saw so many familiar faces in the parade of athletes, and it felt great to sort of "be home" again.
Over the weekend, we attended the competitions, awarded medals, and did a performance, (which we incorporated into a talent show with the athletes), and spent time with our many friends. The Closing Ceremony was very touching. I had so many athletes who wanted to join me in singing the "Flame", and felt bad to single out just one or two, so the entire audience stood with me and sang. Then, as the evening was winding down, director Jim Balamaci said he had something very special he wanted me to see. The people who videotaped the events over the weekend condensed the ceremonies and the competitions and used "You Are the Flame", followed by "Wind Beneath My Wings" for the music. It was very touching, emotional, and a perfect ending for the weekend events.
Alaska's never dull, and one of the most exciting things to happen on this 7th trip to the Last Frontier happened on June 16th at the Sullivan Arena. The nationwide tour of "Champions of Ice" show was scheduled there, and thanks to Tom Hollander of Palmer, Alaska, they graciously gave Special Olympics 15 minutes prior to their show. What a very professional group of people working with this show! So, the Boy Scouts presented the Colors, a group of four young gentlemen did a beautiful arrangement of the "Alaska Flag Song", and I performed "You Are the Flame" as Special Olympics athletes Lisa Burns and Melanie Flowers ice skated. It was a great introduction to the people of Anchorage by Special Olympics, since the World Winter Games will be held there in the Winter of 2001. Jim Balamaci, Alaska's Exec.Director, and Melissa Anderson, Director for the 2001 World Games were also present and spoke about the 2001 Games and the many countries who will be represented. After our show, we were all guests of the "Champions on Ice" show, with top Olympic skaters as Michelle Kwan, Todd Eldridge, Surya Bonali and more. In just one word, this show was "FANTASTIC"!
There are so many people to thank for making our Alaska visit possible, starting with director Jim Balamaci, who we met at a national convention in Nashville several years ago. Jim made things happen for the Summer Games, the '98 Winter Games, and the '97 Summer Games. He truly believes in the many goals I aim for with "You Are the Flame", and we can't thank him enough for arranging the airfare and lodging, and especially for his friendship. (And, again, we gathered together for our traditional dinner, this time at the Double Musky in Girdwood. Great to have Nicole joining us for this one!)
We must also thank the many others who are so thoughtful, including Joel Summers for arranging our lodging, Melissa Anderson of the 2001 World Games, Jeff and Brett, (who are of upmost importance in the production and sound aspects), the entire staff of Special Olympics Alaska, Steve of Affordable Car Rental, and of course, the many, many athletes, coaches and families we have come to know and love in Alaska. We've felt welcomed and at home from the very first time, and look forward to many returns to Alaska!
Thanks to Jim Balamaci, Executive Director of Special Olympics Alaska, we were invited again to Anchorage to perform for the Winter Games event. What perfectly beautiful weather we had! Ski events were held at the Alyeska Resort, and it was great watching the competitions. We saw many former friends, and made many more. During the Closing Ceremony, I surprised everyone by singing the Alaska Flag Song....home is where the heart is!
We extended our stay in Anchorage for the entire next week, and were thrilled to watch the start of the 1998 Iditarod! In meeting many of the mushers, including DeeDee Jonrow, Martin Buser and Jeff King, we found them to be very down to earth and truly caring with their dogs. (Jeff King, by the way, was the 1998 Iditarod Winner.)
This is Ginny Steele. She used the music to "You Are The Flame" for her ice skating routine. Ginny won a Gold & Silver Medal for her performance.
Here is Maria with Jim Balamaci, Executive Director of Special Olympics Alaska and Samuel Adams of the Seattle Seahawks(Presently with the World Champion Baltimore Ravens)
The 1998 Iditarod Champion. This is Jeff's third win. Although really busy the morning of the start, Jeff took time to pose for many photos and autographs for his fans.