Sharing The Dream at USA Games
A year before Denise Hulstrom organized the first Special Olympics Colorado Spectrum Skyhawks Unified soccer team, she was participating as a Unified partner in the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey. She says this experience stands as one of the most influential moments in her time with Special Olympics Colorado. She loved the unity that arose amongst the different teams and individual athletes competing for the Colorado delegation. The time spent in New Jersey allowed Denise the opportunity to get to know these teams and individuals more than she could at seasonal competitions. After an inspiring week, Denise Hulstrom knew this was an experience she hoped to have again, but little did she know the next opportunity was just around the corner.
In 2015, the Spectrum Skyhawks Unified soccer team took the pitch for the first time with a squad of 12 members. The team came about after Hulstrom’s boss at Spectrum told his company that he hoped to have a company sports team as a way for the staff to bond. Seizing the opportunity, Denise went to her boss and proposed having a Unified soccer team that competed in Special Olympics Colorado competitions.
The soccer team was such a hit that it led to Spectrum having Unified teams in softball, flag football, and basketball – at the adult and youth levels – all of which Hulstrum helps to coach. The teams built by Hulstrom are all built on the foundations of comradery and friendship. The athletes, coaches, and Unified partners have shared experiences throughout Spectrum’s different teams, enriching the relationships between athletes and Unified partners.
Today, the Spectrum soccer team has four members that were part of the inaugural 2015 team. The team has grown to hold a roster of 15 members, who have an array of different experiences when it comes to being involved with sports. Some members, like Hulstrom, have grown up around sports and the Special Olympics Colorado community. For others, this is the first time they have had the chance to be part of a team.
Seeing the variances in experiences and age on the team, Hulstrom has sought to coach through encouragement. This approach to coaching, by positive motivation, has helped foster the overall goals of comradery, friendship, and growth in skills on and off the field. Through encouragement, it allowed the team to grow moral and to have a multitude of constructive teaching moments.
In 2017, Spectrum’s Unified soccer team set out to earn a place in the 2018 USA Games. The dream of going to nationals seemed like a reality when they made it to the championship game for soccer qualifiers. Sadly, the game and a penalty shootout didn’t go the way the team envisioned, leaving them just shy of their aspirations.
After the game, Hulstrom took the moment as a learning experience for herself as a coach and used it as motivation for the rest of the team. What was temporarily a moment of sadness, filled with that taste no competitor wishes to taste again, became a moment where a goal of perseverance was established. Denise promised her team that, if they gave her the same effort that was on display in 2017, throughout the seasons to come, then she would get them to the 2022 USA Games.
Fast-forward to 2021, the team unknowingly was playing for their chance to earn the right to compete for Special Olympics Colorado at the 2022 USA Games. Truthfully, the team never knew that this dream was possible until a late July summer night when the Spectrum Skyhawks Unified soccer team was attending a Colorado Rapids game.
While at the game, the team thought they were simply given tickets as a congratulations for their efforts at the 2021 Summer Games. Little did they know, they were about to be surprised by Rapid Man and the Special Olympics Colorado staff with an official announcement of being selected to go to Orlando, Florida for the 2022 USA Games.
That evening, the northeast corner of Dick Sporting Goods Park glowed with energy from the dreams and aspirations that were now realities. For many on the team, this opportunity to go to the USA Games is a first. For a select few, this is the chance to share an experience. As for coach Hulstrom, her promises held to be true, and with that, the Spectrum Skyhawks are fittingly off to the magical world of Disney.