Last month, the Federal Way Thunder attended a Christmas party hosted by a good friend — Seattle Seahawks defensive end Dion Jordan.
The Federal Way Thunder unified sports team began in 2015. The program offers sporting opportunities for people with or without intellectual or physical disabilities. In July, the Thunder’s flag football team participated in the Special Olympics USA Games and met Jordan along the way.
About 100 Special Olympic athletes from around Washington and their families enjoyed dinner, hot cocoa, and a night of holiday fun Dec. 17 at The Edgewater in Seattle.
“It was like [everyone was] seeing an old friend,” said Tyler Bjork, senior manager of community outreach and engagement for Special Olympics Washington and recreation assistant for Federal Way.
All 10 athletes from the Federal Way Thunder were in attendance, gifting the Seahawk with a special present — a snapshot of the Thunder team with Jordan, signed by each member from Federal Way.
“Everything Dion Jordan is doing is because he likes hanging out with these guys, he likes the Special Olympics, he loves our mission… it’s just people hanging out with people,” Bjork said.
Jordan had attended the Thunder’s games, cheering on his friends from the sidelines.
“Dion became a fan. He became part of the team,” Bjork said.
Spreading more holiday cheer, Jordan invited the Thunder to the Dec. 30 game against the Arizona Cardinals. The Thunder also supported Jordan at the Seahawks Training Camp back in August.
The team’s friendship blossomed last summer when Jordan volunteered with the Special Olympics USA Games and bonded with the Federal Way Thunder unified flag football team.
Volunteer is a commonly used phrase, although the unified intent is to have people with and without intellectual disabilities playing the same sport, on the same field, with the same opportunities, Bjork said.
“Overall, it was absolutely incredible,” Bjork said about the Special Olympics USA Games, held last July in the region. “Seattle is a really great example of how our community gets behind organizations like the Special Olympics. … To see people from all walks of life wanting to come out and wanting to see Special Olympics and be a part of it, just the amount of volunteers they had [and] to see our local community back something like Special Olympics — well especially Special Olympics — and to engage everyone, was incredible.”
Representing Team Washington in the Games, two Federal Way teams competed as a traditional soccer team and a unified flag football team.
Federal Way’s soccer team took home gold medals for their first place win at the USA Games.
Federal Way Thunder took second to Team Florida after an otherwise undefeated season and back-to-back state championships in previous years.
“The best part about it is when they walk off the field, they embody sportsmanship,” Bjorke said about the Thunder. “Every time, no doubt, they are hugging, they are shaking hands, they’re taking a team picture together at the end.”
Overall, Team Washington triumphantly walked away from the Special Olympics with 39 gold medals, 40 silver medals and 30 bronze medals.
From all sides, the most important job anyone can have is being a fan, Bjork said.
“They bring community members, people, anyone who is watching them, into their team wholeheartedly … they have a electrifying spirit,” Bjork said.
Bjork said the Federal Way community provides everything you could hope for in sports and competition.
“The reason I keep coming back to Federal Way… I don’t know what it is, it must be something in the air down there,” Bjork said about Federal Way Thunder and its community.
“But it really is just a welcoming program. They embody sportsmanship, they’re fun to hang out with and they’re just good people.”