A team of University of Miami professors and students, both grad and undergrad, teamed up with Special Olympics for the World Games this past summer in Los Angeles. For the nine student interns, the majority of the work came before the Games even started, as they documented the first ever Unified Relay Across America, a run of the torch all the way across the country.

Leader of the team, Professor Rich Beckman, has been working with Special Olympics for more than 30 years and says he has been to about 11 World Games. The World Games is organized similarly to the Olympics, occurring every 2 years and alternating between summer and winter games.

Beckman and his team capture footage throughout the games to put together documentaries for Special Olympics to use for their website and various media outlets.

Professor Trevor Green was part of this team over the summer. Green has been involved with the Special Olympics since 2008 and has been a part of four World Games. Green said that this is the first year that ESPN has covered the games, so this year he worked more on special interest documentaries and special event media coverage than sports coverage.

“Not only is it enjoyable to watch these amazing athletes perform, it’s also enjoyable to know you’re a part of it. You’re documenting these kind of moments, these precious kind of times,” Green said.

Kyle Holsten, a senior at UM and Electronic Media major, was one of nine student interns for Special Olympics. He said he heard about this opportunity in Professor Beckman’s Interactive Storytelling class when Beckman offered his students a chance to travel across the United States in 46 days as media interns.

“It was the most amazing opportunity I’ve been given career-wise,” Holsten said.

As a media intern, Holsten was responsible for taking photographs and videos of the participants and events happening during the torch run across America. The torch took three routes: a northern route, a central route and a southern route. Holsten and two other interns were on the central route. The central route started in Washington, D.C. and went through Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California.

Alexis Aarons is a graduate student at UM who followed the torch along the southern route of the U.S.  Starting in Florida, the interns went north to Georgia and the Carolinas and then west to Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and finally California.  According to Aarons they were unable to go to Hawaii, which was originally part of the route, due to time constraints.

Aarons said that everyday she and the two other interns on the southern route would get a shot sheet of specific events or people they needed to photograph. In major cities, such as Atlanta or Charlotte, they would have a video due for the events from that city and at the end of every week they produced a short video to recap all of the places they had been.

Aarons stayed around after the games to produce the final video.

From Special Olympics veteran Rich Beckman to newbies Kyle Holsten and Alexis Aarons, everyone mentioned what a great experience the World Games was and how they plan to be involved in some aspect of Special Olympics in the future. 

Professor Green said that he would like to be a part of the next 10 World Games. Aarons, who has been a cheerleader all her life, said that she wants to get involved with the Special Olympics cheerleading program both on the local level and the state of Florida level.

“Being at Special Olympics is really a reminder of a number of things,” Beckman said. “It reminds us of how fortunate we are and how important it is for us to give back as journalists to the industry to help organizations that can benefit from our skills.”

While Holsten said that he gained valuable experience in media and became a much better photographer, the best moments for him were meeting the athletes and interacting with them and their families.

“Pure emotion, pure happiness, celebrating people who don’t get celebrated, celebrating life,” Holsten said. “That’s what it’s really about.”

Photos by Alexis Aarons. Video by UM M.A. Journalism graduates Danny Bull and Chris Letendre.