Following the success of Cricket last weekend in Dallas, over 1,200 athletes poured into Austin from around the country on Thanksgiving Day to continue the United States Ismaili Games (USIG).

From the minute athletes stepped into Austin, they could sense the excitement that pervaded the city stemming from the Games.

“I have never been around this many Ismaili athletes at a sporting event before,” shared 14-year old table tennis athlete Arman Hudda from the West region: “It shows just how talented our community is. As Mawlana Hazar Imam has said, sports can connect us, and I feel like USIG will connect all athletes from around the country.”

On the first night of USIG, athletes, volunteers, friends and families gathered at the Round Rock Sports Complex to check-in and get an opportunity to meet each other.

Even though athletes were away from their traditional Thanksgiving celebrations, they did not miss an opportunity to give back. Following check-in, athletes and guests joined I-CERV (Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering) to help pack hygiene kits to pass out to the homeless in the city. The community partnered with Caritas of Austin, a nonprofit with the mission to prevent and end homelessness for people in Greater Austin, to ensure the kits were distributed to those in need.

“It is very important for me as a person, and our community, to give back to those who are not in the same position as I am,” said USIG volunteer Anica Ali. She added, “For people to take their time out to think about others and help them is a beautiful thing. I enjoyed participating with my brothers and sisters as we volunteered our time towards a common goal.”

To officially kick-off the games, the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board (AKYSB) hosted an official opening ceremony. The Austin Boys Scouts led the flag ceremony, followed by representatives of each region carrying banners signed by local Jamati members.

As a homage to a tradition established at the 2016 Jubilee Games, a Unity Torch was presented by each region, symbolizing teamwork, togetherness, and the concept of One Jamat. Additionally, national AKYSB Chairman Sean Hassan, and Honorary Secretary Nashila Somani Ladha unveiled the Legacy Trophy, an additional accolade granted to the region with the highest number of medals won from the games.They urged the athletes to embody the theme of the games, “Together We Win,” and support each other throughout the weekend, on and off the field.

The night ended with a celebratory Thanksgiving feast. Athletes and guests were treated to delicious turkey, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy and tasty desserts.

The games kicked off on the next day at each of the six sites across Austin, with athletes competing in nine different team sports and eight individual sports. Spectators and guests cheered on the athletes while also participating in various workshops and activities happening throughout the course of the weekend, including dancing and photography workshops, yoga, and bubble soccer.