When the NHL cancelled games for the month of November, it wasn’t just Carolina Hurricanes fans in Raleigh and North Carolina who were disappointed. Across the Atlantic, many miles away in Copenhagen, Denmark, Martin Danielsen was saddened. The 28 year-old Special Olympics athlete had planned a trip to the United States for the sole purpose to cheer on his beloved Hurricanes at three straight games during Thanksgiving week. Martin and his mom Elin Eskildsen made the trip anyway. They had already booked their airline tickets and made plans to visit friends in Benson and Cary. This trip would be Martin’s fifth to the United States. He first came as a swimmer in 1999 for the Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. He took home two gold and two silver medals from the Games. But he also took home a lasting love for North Carolina especially the sports team in this state.
Martin and Elin stayed with Janet Wilson of Benson and her family when Benson was a host town for the Danish athletes in 1999. The two families have remained friends over the years and have visited each other on occasion.
The two landed in Washington, DC on Nov. 14 and after taking in a Washington Wizards game and seeing the national monuments they made their way to North Carolina. One of their first stops was to load up on Hurricanes gear at the Eye fan store. Then the pair settled in and enjoyed a true American Thanksgiving meal with more than 30 of the Wilson’s extended family.
Then it was kickoff time! Janet Wilson’s daughter Alicia Gilsenan and her family took Martin and his mom to Greenville to see the first of three football games in a five day span. The East Carolina Pirates won a high-scoring, double-overtime thriller against Marshall and Martin experienced tailgating for the first time and loved it!
“This is all for him,” said Elin, Martin’s mom. “I’m not much for American football. It’s very slow. I like hockey and soccer much better. But he loves it so I’m very happy to do all this.”
Next up, seats at the Boston College vs NC State football game in Raleigh. The Wolfpack came away victorious and Martin was very happy.
“I’m probably the only American college football fan in Denmark,” Martin laughed. “I keep up with the teams on the internet especially NC State.”
Two days later, the pair drove to Philadelphia and took in the Carolina Panthers Monday Night Football win over the Eagles in great seats the Gilsenan family was able to secure for them.
“It was great,” said Martin. “I’d planned to cheer in my heart for the Panthers at the game since we’d heard Eagles fans can be rough but we had a great time! I’m so thankful to all my friends in North Carolina! “
Sports are truly a very important part of Martin’s life. He’s an accomplished swimmer and soccer player and been involved in Special Olympics since he was eight. He’s traveled all over the world for Special Olympics soccer competitions. And he’s been to numerous Special Olympics World Games including the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. While training for those Games with his soccer team he fell in love with running. He has really embraced the sport. In 2012, he’s already completed three marathons and 12 half-marathons!
Special Olympics is very important to Martin so it was a real treat when he and his mom found the Special Olympics Inc. offices in Washington, DC. They went in and were warmly welcomed and given a grand tour and some T-shirts to take home. Best of all they were able to meet Special Olympics President/CEO Tim Shriver who was very impressed with Martin’s accomplishments and even more so his English skills! The visit was definitely a highlight of their trip!
“It was a very emotional on the plane to leave the United States,” said Martin about his departure on Nov. 29. “I even had some tears. My dream is to live and work in the United States. I will miss my friends there.”
But Martin hopes to be back sooner than later. His goal is to return to the United States and visit the West Coast. He wants to compete in the 2015 Special Olympics Word Summer Games in Los Angeles and qualify in athletics as a half-marathon runner!