As an extension of its partnership with the Special Olympics, Microsoft hosted a leg of the Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America at its headquarters in Redmond on Thursday. The Unified Relay is traveling the entire continental United States in a span of 46 days to raise awareness for the Special Olympics in advance of the upcoming World Games in Los Angeles.
Microsoft’s partnership with the Special Olympics was announced in October 2014. The partnership is a three-year, multimillion dollar agreement. In addition to sponsoring the summer 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles and the Winter 2017 Special Olympics in Austria, Microsoft is updating the organization’s technology infrastructure.
Addressing the crowd on Thursday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the partnership reflects Microsoft’s mission to “empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.”
He added, “It speaks directly to our mission. The more I’ve learned about the Special Olympics movement and the organization, it’s amazing to see what they do. They are the lean organization, they’re the lean nonprofit that I think all of us can aspire to be associated with.”
Nadella told the story of Jackie Barrett, the Canadian powerlifter and prolific Special Olympics medalist who has set records not only in the Special Olympics but also in the broader sport of powerlifting.
“The next time someone sets a world record at a Special Olympics, we can be assured because of the power of the technology that the world will know of it instantly,” Nadella said. “For me, personally, it means a lot. I am a father of two kids who have special needs. So, to see the excitement around Special Olympics, the ability for [my children] to aspire to perhaps one day participate in the Special Olympics means a lot to me.”
Jeff Hansen, general manager of Microsoft Brand Studio, explained that Microsoft is helping to modernize how the Special Olympics run their organization and athletic events.
“A big thing we’ve been focused on is updating their games management system,” Hansen said. “So you can imagine the amount of data that you want to track around an event, including an athlete’s performance before they come to an event and tracking their personal bests, etc. They had a pretty basic system for that, so we are using a number of our technologies, including Azure, to update that games management system.”
Microsoft is also providing 800 Surfaces and 1,200 Lumia devices to help track the events at the games and to connect volunteers.
The event on Thursday included live music performances from musicians Allen Stone and Jael Johnson, and the lighting of the Flame of Hope cauldron. Players from the Seattle Sounders also participated, coaching soccer and playing bocce ball with Microsoft employees and their families.