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Part IV: Heading to China: Fervor, Flatulence and Red, White & Blue Denial
Editor's Note: In this installment by Marcus King, a PGA professional who's the general manager of Sand Point Country Club in Seattle, he describes mustering up his Special Olympics golf squad in Seattle and flying - via Los Angeles - thousands of miles to Shanghai, China, for the 2007 Special Olympics World Games.
The summer months came and went full of training and preparation, and before we knew it, our trip to Shanghai, China, to compete in the Special Olympics World Summer Games was upon us. We had prepared ourselves in every conceivable way and vetted every possible worst-case scenario and detail, leaving nothing to chance. We coaches were ready for anything: from terrorism, to diarrhea on a bus, food poisoning, to someone being left behind, kidnapping, medication problems, and not having enough golf balls to navigate the 18 water holes at Tianma Country Club. We had emergency contacts, Imodium D, and enough balls to temporarily drive up the stock price of Titleist. We were ready!
Well, almost . . .
We assembled our Northwest delegation of athletes and flew to Los Angeles on Alaska Airlines to meet the rest of Team USA once again and take care of the interminable processing that a large group must go through to travel to a foreign country, much less communist China and its relatively cumbersome restrictions. We ended up sleeping for a grand total of two hours that night, with most of the athletes too amped up to rest, and we awoke and were dressed by 3:00 a.m. and ready to head to LAX. The Special Olympics staff was amazing, a perfectly balanced team of operations specialists who made the whole process as smooth as humanly possible. But the one challenge that they had to overcome was the fact that every athlete was dressed identically and had the same luggage. You can only imagine what it's like to deal with 550 pieces of identical luggage and get them on the right airplane! Whatever they were paid, it wasn't enough.
The flight itself was provided by a key Special Olympics sponsor, the Department of Defense, on World Airways and, thankfully, it was relatively uneventful. Our trajectory took us to Anchorage, Alaska, first to pick up more athletes and coaches before flying to Shanghai. The flight ended up being a grueling 17-hour stretch that challenged the most seasoned of travelers. We kept the athletes moving as much as possible, showing movies constantly and keeping them all fed and hydrated. We even handed out children's aspirin to those who could take it to avoid any blood-clotting issues on such a long flight. We had our fair share of mishaps, including an apparent "whiff" on a medical record that apparently neglected to mention one individual's flatulence problem, who was coincidentally seated near me. His condition seemed to worsen while sleeping, so in self-defense and in defense of our countrymen and -women, we all thankfully took turns making sure he stayed awake.
The flight attendants on our World Airways aircraft were something special. They decorated the entire plane in red, white and blue and showed us their patriotic pride at every turn. They took pictures, listened intently to all the athletes who wanted to talk, laughed at all of our bad jokes, took genuine care of us, and really made the flight into a wonderful, memorable experience. Our athletes were thrilled to see the red, white and blue decorations, especially since we were under a national directive to NOT display American flags anywhere on our uniforms or luggage so as avoid offending the host country.
I had a real problem with having to suppress our nationalistic and patriotic fervor, but as a team player, I went along with the directive and made sure my athletes were indeed flag-free. How ironic that the flight attendants told us how happy that they drew "Special Olympics duty" since their normal passenger load was a plane full of troops being delivered to Iraq. They expressed how wonderful it was in the knowledge that they would be picking all of us up in China and returning us home, instead of living with the fear they would be delivering young troops to their death in Iraq or Afghanistan. These brave souls were never able to return home except in a box with a flag draped over it, received only by a mournful playing of "Taps," an honor guard and grieving family members. Special Olympics duty was indeed special for our beloved flight crew.
We landed in Shanghai early in the afternoon and processed through immigration and customs as quickly and efficiently as I have ever seen. We were welcomed by an amazing reception of Chinese nationals lining the aisles and streets as we proceeded in our police-escorted bus to the Credentials Processing Center. After getting our necessary papers, we jumped back on our buses and into the Seattle-like traffic and headed to downtown Shanghai to our hotel room.
At the hotel, we were greeted again by lots of flag-waving Chinese and press. It was pretty cool running the fervent gauntlet of high-fiving citizens anxious to see "the Americans." Once inside, we were corralled into a giant hotel buffet room where we had our first taste of genuine Chinese food and were introduced to the many versions of tofu that adorn the typical Chinese diet. As you, dear reader, can imagine, the pans of tofu remained untouched while a pan of French fries witnessed a mugging of epic proportions. I gathered my four athletes, ate some spinach with tofu and a hard-boiled egg, and we retired to our rooms happy, giddy, and hopeful for a Chinese adventure.
We had finally arrived in China and we were ready for business!
PGA member Marcus King lives in North Bend, Wash., and is the proud father of two teenagers. He currently serves as the President of the Western Washington PGA and as a Director on the Pacific Northwest PGA Board. Marcus caddied throughout his childhood at Seattle Golf Club and earned an Evans Scholarship to the University of Washington, where he graduated in 1986 with a degree in Political Science. He has served as a golf professional at Inglewood Golf Club, West Seattle Golf Course, Jefferson Park Golf Course, Jackson Park Golf Course, the TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge, Wolf Creek Resort in Utah, Fairwood Golf & Country Club, and now serves the membership at Sand Point Country Club as the General Manager. Marcus has extensive community outreach experience including the American Cancer Society, Children's Hospital and Medical Center, Metro Citizen's Advisory Board, King County Superior Court Diversion Program, and the PGA's Golf in Schools and Inner City Youth programs. Marcus conducted a highly successful junior golf program at Jackson Park Golf Course and has been a junior golf advocate for over 20 years. His current passion is with the Special Olympics golf program and he recently completed service as the PGA Coach to the United States Special Olympics Golf Team that competed in Shanghai, China for the Special Olympics World Games. He trains the Washington State Special Olympics golf coaches and is currently re-writing the golf instruction manual using a new methodology. During the holidays, Marcus also serves as a volunteer Santa Claus.