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Grand Forks couple meet, get engaged as volunteers for Special Olympics

Michael Storandt and Sarah Sand share a happy moment as North Dakota delegates to the Special Olympics USA Games last July in Seattle. The Grand Forks couple got engaged at the Special Olympics state basketball tournament earlier this month in Minot. (Submitted photo) 1 / 2
Sarah Sand (center) displays her engagement ring after Michael Storandt (in white shirt) proposed to her at the athletes' Victory Dance during the Special Olympics North Dakota Basketball Tournament on March 1 at Bishop Ryan High School in Minot. They are surrounded by Special Olympic coaches, friends and athletes who witnessed the proposal. (Submitted photo) 2 / 2

Sarah Sand had always believed she would meet her "special someone" through her volunteer work with Special Olympics—and she did.

Michael Storandt, also a volunteer, proposed to her earlier this month at the Special Olympics state basketball tournament in Minot.

The two met about four years ago and have been dating for about two years.

"I always said, growing up, I would meet someone at Special Olympics," said Sand, who was raised in Grand Forks.

Storandt, a second-year UND medical student from Moorhead, proposed during the Special Olympics Victory Dance, an annual event at the state basketball tournament, at Bishop Ryan High School.

As he dropped to one knee, one of Sand's closest friends, Bailey Bjorge, an athlete with Down Syndrome, brought the ring to him.

"I thought the dance would be the perfect place to propose, surrounded by the people we love so much," Storandt said. "Everyone had the opportunity to share in the engagement."

Special Olympics, an organization that provides sport opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, has been an important part of their lives.

For Sand, who's been a volunteer for almost 12 years, it's the "atmosphere and the people" she enjoys most, she said.

She coaches cheerleading and plays flag football, soccer and volleyball with the Special Olympics athletes.

"It's such a positive, uplifting experience. Some of my closest friends are athletes and coaches (with Special Olympics)," she said.

"And I get to do it with Michael," she said. "It's something we both love. There's a bond with all the athletes, and they have one with us."

Storandt, who has been a Special Olympics volunteer for about seven years, coaches the flag football team and youth basketball.

When they met, Sand said she was most impressed that Storandt volunteered for Special Olympics. He was intent on attending medical school and later was accepted to the program at Yale University.

"I pursued him," she said candidly. "He was thinking about where he'd go for medical school. For him, a girl was not in the picture."

"A friend said (to Storandt) 'just go on a date with her,'" Sand remembered.

"Without Special Olympics, medical school would be much more difficult. It provides a break from studying, a time to spend with friends and refocus on why I am going into medicine: to help people," Storandt said. It's a chance "to get away, have some fun and refresh."

The couple has shared many good times with Special Olympics, including a trip to Seattle as North Dakota delegates to the USA Games last summer, which Sand called "an incredible experience."

As they contemplated marriage, Sand had suggested that she'd like the proposal to occur at a Special Olympics event, surrounded by "all the special people I love. No reaction would be better."

While they were in Minot for the Special Olympics state basketball tournament March 1, they were having dinner with friends and she noticed a change in her guy's normally healthy appetite.

"He didn't eat dinner," she said. "I thought, 'Why are you not eating—are you nervous about something?' So I had an inkling he was going to propose."

The dance was the perfect setting, she said. "It's one of the best parts of the tournament. Everyone is dancing and having fun."

Sand, who graduated from UND last spring with a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation and human services and minor in special education, is working as an employment specialist for Community Options.

The couple is planning a July 2020 wedding in Grand Forks.