The logistics required for the event — taking place July 1–6 in Seattle — are mind-blowing.

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It takes a lot of tennis balls to host the Special Olympics USA Games, coming to Seattle this summer.

That’s just one — or, more technically, 300 — of the details on Eva Murrell’s plate every day as the big event draws near. Murrell is the director of logistics and venues for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, which run July 1–6. The logistics she and her staff juggle are mind-blowing. They’re also responsible for:

  • 5,000 pairs of shoes handed out to the athletes
  • 4,200 residence hall beds
  • 14,000 boxed lunches
  • 25,200 all-you-can-eat breakfasts
  • 14,000 feet of fencing
  • 11,000 chairs
  • 31 buses used each day

Welcome to the world of behind-the-scenes planning for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, which will welcome more than 4,000 athletes and coaches from across the nation along with tens of thousands of volunteers and spectators, for competitions in 14 Olympic-type team and individual sports.

Competition will take place at University of Washington facilities and other nearby venues including Seattle University, the King County Aquatic Center and Celebration Park in Federal Way. Athletes will compete for medals in basketball, bocce, bowling, flag football, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, softball, standup paddleboard, swimming, tennis, track and field and volleyball.

But organizers say the event transcends mere win-or-lose competition. The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games will be a showcase for athletes with intellectual disabilities, celebration of the spirit of inclusion and a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the community to get involved in what is expected to be one of the largest sporting events in Puget Sound history.

While websites and promotional materials typically cite the Games’ 10,000-strong volunteer force, the numbers for the USA Games in Seattle will be much higher.

“It’s probably closer to 15,000,” says Karlan Jessen, the director of volunteers and sustainability for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.

Jessen is a marketing specialist with a passion for sports and recreation who has also coordinated volunteers for events such as the Courage Classic Bicycle Tour as well as Seattle’s Seafair Weekend. She is former director of communications for the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

If the profusion of calendars and whiteboards adorning her office is any indication of what’s ahead, the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games will be an event of epic scale.

“It’s the largest number of volunteers in my experience,” Jessen says. “We’re doing it way bigger than it’s ever been done before.”

A key component of that is the fact that the games are being billed as “the walkable games.”

Unlike previous host cities, Seattle’s unique geography puts many of the venues in close proximity. That’s why part of Jessen’s role is planning the Opening Ceremony Cheer Line. Instead of being bussed to the Opening Ceremony at Husky Stadium, the athletes will walk a mile-long parade route straight from the residence halls at the UW to the stadium.

According to Jessen, volunteers will be matched with about 15,000 shifts — a shift averaging about 7½ hours — and over 10,000 shifts have been filled so far.

Volunteers of every skill and experience level will be vital to the games and there is a specific need for healthcare professionals to volunteer as part of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes screenings, which are provided free of charge to athletes competing at the games. From physical therapy to vision examinations, Special Olympics has provided more than 1.9 million health screenings and trained over 220,000 health care professionals in over 130 countries to treat people with intellectual disabilities.

All volunteers are required to undergo training at one of 35 public sessions scheduled around Puget Sound from mid-May to June 23, she says. Another 25 training sessions are hosted by corporate groups.

Jessen says Seattleites share a generosity of spirit and willingness to give their time that help make her job easier.

“From the many corporate partners to the individual volunteers, it’s been great to see the enthusiasm in our community,” she says.


Healthcare professionals interested in volunteering at Healthy Athletes can sign up at

In addition, the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games needs volunteers of all ages to help to fill the Opening Ceremony Cheer Line and Fans in the Stands. Register at


A 2,018-member volunteer choir, the largest vocal ensemble ever assembled in the state, is taking shape. The choir, conducted by director Rafe Wadleigh, will perform for more than 50,000 people at Husky Stadium. There is a $10 fee for apparel and music, and members are required to attend rehearsal on June 30. Sign up at


The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games will showcase the abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities, promote the ideals of acceptance and inclusion through sport, and celebrate the transformative power of Special Olympics.