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From July 1-6, more than 4,000 athletes and coaches from all 50 states will visit Seattle and the surrounding region to participate in the Special Olympics USA Games.

The University of Washington will serve as the primary venue for the Games, hosting the opening ceremonies, athletic competitions, presentations, entertainment and more. UW residence halls will house thousands of athletes and coaches during the games.

Other local venues co-hosting the 2018 USA Games include Seattle Center, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, King County Aquatic Center, Willows Run Golf Club, Celebration Park and Kenmore Lanes.

More than 10,000 volunteers will support the USA Games in Seattle, including many UW Medicine providers and staff.

“The decision to volunteer for the Special Olympics USA games was easy for me,” says Dr. Justin Rothmier of The Sports Medicine Clinic at Northwest Hospital and a medical volunteer at the Games. “The athletes who have made it to the USA Games are truly committed to their sports. Special Olympics gives athletes with disabilities the opportunity to participate with athletes of similar abilities. It allows for fair competition and celebrates hard work and devotion to a particular sport. It also promotes inclusion into a sport rather than exclusion and allows athletes of all abilities to succeed at the highest level.”

“The Special Olympics athletes themselves are extremely fun to work with,” he adds.  “They are gracious, joyful and respectful to all. They participate for the pure enjoyment, and they don’t let themselves get bigger than the sport itself. They are truly inspiring and I am excited to be part of their experience.”

Paula Houston, UW Medicine’s director of healthcare equity and a world-champion powerlifter, will have a special role at the USA Games, serving as Sports Commissioner for powerlifting. Houston has volunteered for Special Olympics Washington since 1997, supporting the Summer Games each year at Joint Base Lewis McChord. The USA Games approached her to take on the role of Sports Commissioner when Seattle was chosen as the location for the national Games.

“I continue to volunteer for Special Olympics because I love powerlifting as my own sport and thoroughly enjoy helping others experience the sport as a competitor,” Houston says. “Seeing the joy these athletes get out of lifting is very rewarding. Special Olympics provides athletes with opportunities to experience competition, teamwork and setting and reaching goals that many would not have otherwise. It should be noted that many of the Special Olympics powerlifters I have seen are excellent and would be competitive in “mainstream” organizations too.”

All UW and UW Medicine faculty, staff, students, family and friends are encouraged to attend the Special Olympics USA Opening Ceremony on July 1, and a variety of exciting events and activities on the Seattle campus, beginning June 27. You can show your support by joining as a “Fan in the Stands,” volunteering or participating.

Note that employees who choose to volunteer or attend events during work hours need to request vacation time off for those activities.

Schedule Overview

  • June 29-30: Athletes and coaches move into the UW
  • July 1: Opening ceremony at Husky Stadium
  • July 2-6: Sporting events at the UW and additional local venues
  • July 6: Closing ceremony at Lake Union Park
  • July 7: Athletes and coaches depart the UW
  • Full schedule

The Young Athletes Festival, the Fan Zone, the Closing Ceremony and all of the sports competitions are free and open to the public. Tickets are required for the Opening Ceremony and are $20-$65.

Fourteen sports will be offered including swimming, flag football, basketball, golf, gymnastics, tennis, powerlifting and soccer. More than 10,000 volunteers will support the USA Games with 70,000 spectators expected to attend.

In addition to showcasing the inspiring abilities of thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities, the USA Games will model the ideals of inclusion and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics movement.

The UW has a long history of researching intellectual disabilities, and of serving members of the community with Down Syndrome, autism, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and rarer conditions.

Parking and Traffic Impacts

Since the USA Games are occurring in the summer, the impact should be minimal. The Opening Ceremony on Sunday, July 1 is expected to be the most significantly attended event, but will be limited to 24,000 people, similar to UW Commencement. As with any major event, the campus will receive advance notice and special instructions as needed. Messages to faculty, staff and students as well as specific parking permit holders will be shared as the USA Games approach.

For the competition events on east campus, Special Olympics anticipates 5,000 spectators each day across all of the competition venues.

More information



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