What do Americans love even more than stories of Olympic gold medal winners? We love to hear about unexpected good fortune coming to those in need. One such heart-warming story played out during the Olympics with the women’s hockey team from Kazakh-stan.
Kazakhstan is a little country squeezed between Russia and China, bordered also by the Caspian Sea and a half dozen other little countries whose names are spelled with a lot of K’s, Z’s and J’s and are mostly unpronouncable to English speakers. The people in that part of the world don’t have much in the way of material goods, survival being a higher priority than the designer clothing and electronic toys Americans think they can’t live without. The Kazakhstan women came for the sports, not for a fashion show.
The Kazakhstan women’s hockey team arrived in Salt Lake City for the Olympics dressed in well-worn sweat pants instead of fashionable sportswear like teams from many other countries. When questioned, they said that was all they had. But it wasn’t until Shannon Arnoldsen, a volunteer from Orem, Utah, got involved that things started to change.
Shannon worked at the ice arena where the women’s hockey games were played. When she noticed the Kazakhstan team didn’t have the quality of hockey gear that some of the other teams had, she started asking questions. Their bus driver shared the information that the women didn’t have much in the way of money or souvenirs.
Shannon, who had visited the U.S.S.R. some years ago, said she felt connected to those people. “I’d been to that part of the world and had seen the conditions there, so I decided to help,” she said. But her first efforts to get local retail stores to donate items to the team failed, and Shannon was close to giving up when she shared the story with a friend she bumped into at the mall. The man pulled out his wallet and handed her a $100 dollar bill for the cause.
“Everything would have ended if that man hadn’t done that,” she said.
After that, word spread quickly and more of Shannon’s friends and neighbors made contributions for souvenirs. Then, a contact with the Brigham Young University bookstore brought gold. Gordon Brown, general merchandise manager of the bookstore, told Shannon she could have a selection of slightly imperfect merchandise that had been earmarked for donation to the local Deseret Industries thrift store.
It turned out the items were sweatshirts and other sportswear totaling between $750 and $800 in value.
Besides the clothes, Shannon raised more than $400 in cash donations for the team, and she and her friends gave each member of the team a homemade valentine with $20 tucked inside.
“Light the fire within” was the theme for the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics. The women’s hockey team of Kazakhstan didn’t win any Olympic medals to take home with them, but, when they left, their hearts were warmed with the true generosity and compassion of more than just a few local residents.
(Editor’s note: Dea Smith is a resident of Valencia County who volunteered with the Olympics this year while taking classes in Utah.)
The women’s hockey team of Kazakhstan didn’t win any Olympic medals to take home with them, but, when they left, their hearts were warmed with the true generosity and compassion of more than just a few local residents.