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Special Olympics USA families traveled thousands of miles to cheer for USA. Tennis athlete Heidi Sand’s family happened to be in the neighborhood. In 1955, Heidi’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from Germany. From her mother, Jacque Martin, and her grandmother, Sabina Jurchen, Heidi learned the culture. An ocean away, they remained in contact with their extended family, sharing life updates via Facebook. The last time Heidi saw her family from Germany, she was 4 years old. Thirty-three years later, they watched her win gold at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.

During Special Olympics USA’s visit to their Host Town location Bremerhaven, Heidi visited the German Emigration Center. Between 1951 and 1960, 580,000 Germans immigrated to the United States, many of them departing from the port in Bremerhaven. Through an interactive tour, Heidi learned what the emigration process may have looked like for individuals like her grandmother.

“They are from Germany, they met in Germany and lived there for their whole lives before moving to California,” said Heidi. “I just want to make them proud.”

Today, many of Heidi’s relatives still call Germany home, living in Berlin. When Heidi was selected to represent Special Olympics USA, she promised her family she would win gold for America. Along with her mother and stepfather, John Martin, her extended attended Heidi’s matches during the World Games. They watched her keep that promise.

“I told Heidi to keep calm, that she is getting a medal,” said Nina Laurenz. Heidi’s mother is Nina’s first cousin. With so many generations in the mix, they have scratched the technicalities of the family tree. “We say we are all cousins,” explained Nina. “Because we can’t figure it out.”

“You see this picture,” said Heidi. “It’s all of my cousins.”

Off the court, Heidi visited her extended family’s home in Berlin for a reunion, where they captured a special moment. For the first time in more than three decades, they all stood in the same country, in the same room. For the American visitors, the Germans hosted an authentic barbecue.

“We cooked fish and chicken; I love fish,” said Heidi. “They made me crepes.”

Heidi grew up eating “Eierkcuhen,” a German dish resembling a crepe. It’s her favorite dish made by her mom. But it’s more than a pastry. It’s a trip home.

“We talk through Facebook,” said Nina. “We have WhatsApp, we stay in contact.”

Soon, they will go back to their home countries but are richer in memories shared together. In her gold medal match games, Heidi competed against Special Olympics Germany, supported by family. Though it was not her home country, she had home court advantage.