Special Olympics International recently sat down for a little Q&A with Lillian Narvaez, COO of the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, hosted by New Jersey. Special Olympics Louisiana is sending 56 athletes to these games!
SONA: What’s your Special Olympics Story?
LN: “I graduated from college in 1985 and began working at the Mercer County Arc (NJ), and coached Special Olympics. In 1987 was chosen to coach the women’s basketball team that went to the World Summer Games in Indiana, and soon thereafter joined the Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) staff as a Program Representative, working with the local programs.
In 1989 I became the Training Director and 1995 became VP of Sports. I took the position of COO of the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in 2011.”
SONA: As the USA Games COO, what are you finding different about this role compared to your previous Special Olympics experience?
LN: “Putting together an organization is unique – this job is like starting a new business. From hiring and recruiting high caliber people, building operational plans, there are so many intricacies unique to a National Games.”
SONA: What can people look forward to in 2014?
LN: “Some of the innovative things we’re doing for the Games is the emphasis on special events for the athletes…I don’t want to give anything away, but we think they’ll have an unprecedented experience. We’re also providing a unique opportunity for students to be engaged with the Games, as school will still be in session. From a sports perspective, we really want to bring a “wow’ factor to the competition and venues. We also want to make these truly national games via media coverage and awareness so that at the end, people don’t think “those were great New Jersey Games,” we want them to say they were great national games. Lastly, we want these to be the Games of welcome and acceptance, from the minute they get to the airport and throughout everyone’s whole stay. Jersey gets a bad rap sometimes, but there are so many people and communities that already embrace Special Olympics New Jersey and we can’t wait for people to see that that will extend to all of the athletes, families and fans that come to the Games.”
SONA: What are you, personally, most looking forward to in 2014?
LN: “I’m personally looking forward to seeing the first Cessna Citation land. And my dream is to see our athletes perform at their best at standing room only venues.”
SONA: What are some facts about you that people may not know?
LN: “I’m a huge NY Giants fan, I enjoy cooking, and I love to play golf.” Additional fun fact: she would rather anyone else be interviewed besides her. Thanks for being a good sport, Lillian!