Sun | Mar 24, 2019

Dalton Myers | The world is yours, Special Olympics Ja

Published:Saturday | March 2, 2019 | 12:13 AM

In a few days, the members of the Jamaica Special Olympics team will be displaying their talents at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, from March 14-21. Once again Team Jamaica will be on show at a major multisport event, with the hope of not just bringing home medals, but also inspiring athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympics provides competition and training on and off the field of play in various sporting disciplines. This happens throughout the year and primarily focuses on children and adults with different types of intellectual disabilities. These disabilities can either be acquired or genetic, and include traumatic brain injury, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. The local body, Special Olympics Jamaica, has continued to make a positive impact through its training programmes and providing opportunities for the athletes.

The 98-member contingent, which is on a quest to become the most successful team to a Summer Games, includes experienced seniors and some debutants across eight sporting disciplines: volleyball, football, track and field, swimming, bocce, badminton, basketball and roller skating. Additionally, the contingent will include 73 athletes and 22 coaches and other team officials on this journey to become a success story at the Special Olympic Summer Games. There will be three unified teams. Such teams allow athletes without disabilities to learn from those with intellectual disabilities. That inclusion and unity are always welcome in a society that still struggles to understand people with any form of disability.

This is one of the truly amazing things about sport, and the way it unifies communities and inspires people. Through sport, special olympians and paralympians are able to represent their countries, their families and themselves in ways they might not have been able to do otherwise. At the Summer Games, these athletes feel included in society, knowing that the people they will be competing against have similar disabilities and can understand their struggles. The sad reality in Jamaica is that we are often very insensitive towards people with any form of disability, and our sporting facilities are still not as accommodating to their being spectators either.

TRAINING

This is what makes this Abu Dhabi trip even more special. Many of the athletes in the 2019 team have been training for three to four years for this competition with support from some amazing coaches and administrators, led by Lorna Bell.

Special Olympics Jamaica in general must be commended for not just training these athletes, but also teaching them life skills and helping with personal development. It has been a costly venture. It is incredible that they have managed to raise the J$18.9 million that was needed for just airfare; so kudus to them and their many partners. I note, too, that G.C. Foster College has provided a space for the teams to train, and again I laud the tertiary institution for continuing to contribute to the development of the country.

My hope is that from this experience there will be more people willing to volunteer and support our athletes. I also hope that we can take advantage of the many other opportunities internationally for Special Olympians. The 2019 Games will include other activities, such as, the Families Support Programme, Athlete Leadership, Healthy Athletes, Young Athletes, and the Global Youth Leadership Summit. These create a better games experience for not just athletes globally, but also other support personnel, who are crucial to the Special Olympics Movement.

There are several people with disabilities who need our support. Special Olympians are one such group that we should dedicate time and commit resources to help. The Games is a huge event, but does not get the coverage it deserves locally. However, if the performances from the athletes at the local development track meets are anything to go by, then the world will take notice. In 2018, the Jamaica team placed second at Special Olympics International’s Unified Cup football competition in Chicago. This was achieved in spite of struggles to get needed funding from the public and private sectors to train and support these athletes. Kudos must go to those who support, including Digicel, Puma, Usain Bolt Foundation and the many volunteers who have been working with the team.

Congratulations to all members of the contingent. All the best in Abu Dhabi.

Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Email feedback to daltonsmyers@gmail.com or tweet @Daltonsmyers