When Desiree Hinds signed up for golf at Special Olympics Barbados three years ago, she did not expect it would lead her to the World Games in Los Angeles last month.
The 29-year-old, who suffers from cerebral palsy, had her heart set on becoming a golfer, and went about learning the game. But it did come as a surprise when her coach told her she was among those chosen for this year’s Special Olympics.
“At first I wasn’t expecting it because when I was training my coach told me I was going to LA to participate in the World Games. But I planned on winning something.”
And she did win.
“I participated in golf and I placed fourth, which is good, and I get a fourth place ribbon. I was very excited.
“It was my first time in the World Games and I loved it. I get to meet the other athletes and talk with them and it was very excellent,” she said.
The Challenor Adult Training Facility student was part of a 28-member team representing Barbados at the games.
They brought home eight gold medals, five silver and four bronze –– a performance that earned them high praise from the Sports Minister, Stephen Lashley, as well as Special Olympics Barbados.
“It was a wonderful experience, just really a once in a lifetime experience for the athletes and everyone involved. They accomplished far beyond what anyone thought they might accomplish, except for them. They had the confidence in themselves,” Special Olympics Barbados spokesman, Edward Thompson, told Barbados TODAY.
“It’s just that their performance was just so amazing, that I think it surprised all of us. If you count all the medals together when you consider team sports like football, the relay teams and the swimming relay, we came up with 36 medals when we sent 28 athletes to the games.
“All of our athletes had at least a fourth place finish in the World Games. And this is competition against 7,000 athletes from 177 countries. We’re very proud of what they did. They did a fantastic job.”
The Barbados team was made up of both adults and children, ages from 11 to 49. But while the athletes may have made the island proud, they do not enjoy the same level of recognition as the island’s elite athletes –– something that their counterparts in other Caribbean countries can also relate to.
It is a fact that Thompson laments, given the hard work of the athletes to achieve success at the World Games.
“Certainly not enough attention is paid to the Special Olympics. It’s not just Barbados, it is a worldwide issue that we have to recognise the challenge and the gifts that intellectually disabled people have, and the fact that they are able to go far beyond what people had ever thought of them, and to make great accomplishments,” he noted.
Veteran regional sportscaster Lance Whittaker, who has covered six Summer Olympics Games, shares Thompson’s sentiments. But he told Barbados TODAY there were reasons for the limited attention, especially in the media.
“The Olympic Games is a multi-billion dollar operation with TV rights and they deal with professional athletes who make millions through competing and so on. So the level of investment from the organisations to the media attention is not comparable.”
Whittaker, the executive producer and vice-president of production at Caribbean sports channel, SportsMax, led the channel’s coverage of the World Games in Los Angeles –– the first time a regional broadcast entity covered the event.
“Having experienced it myself I see the benefits of investing more heavily into it. The reason why SportsMax had really covered it is because the chairman of Digicel is a big Special Olympics person from his Irish connection. Ireland actually staged the Special Olympics in 2003 and that was the first time the Special Olympics were staged outside the USA.
“And Dennis O’Brien, the Digicel chairman . . . was on the organising committee and he fell in love with the Special Olympics. So his sojourn now into the Caribbean with Digicel, made him transfer his interest in the Special Olympics to the Caribbean countries,” he said.
According to Whittaker, in Ireland 33 percent of intellectually challenged people compete in sport and the global average is only two percent.
“So . . . the Irish experience with Ireland hosting the Special Olympics in 2003 so sensitized the public there to the movement of Special Olympics that it just triggered this huge turnaround in how intellectually challenged people got interested in sports. I found that a significant statistic.
“It tells you that Ireland is way ahead of the world in how they treat Special Olympics and I think the rest of the world and the Caribbean could benefit from how sensitised they are.”
The event made a lasting impact on the coverage team –– one which Whittaker described as a “very pleasurable experience”.
“The camaraderie and the friendliness were just stand out issues for me. Just the interaction with the athletes and so on, it is a completely different thing. Because these athletes are so happy to be competing, whether they win or they lose is not a major issue.”
He also gained a deeper appreciation for the challenges the athletes and their families face as a result of their disabilities.
“When you have a child that has Down’s syndrome, or is autistic, or has speech or hearing impediments and so on, we need to recognise that they are human beings and anybody could be in that position.
“One of the things that people confront daily in situations like those, and even when I was in LA the other day, they would tell me that a lot of families, whenever they have children who are disabled in any way, they hide them. Because it’s almost kind of an embarrassment for the family and they shelter the person.
“The Special Olympics movement is one way to show that these people can interact and be a part of regular life through sport. So those are just some of the things why I think that the movement, if more investment is put into it in the Caribbean, it could significantly improve that sort of platform that I spoke about,” he said.
At the moment there is little question as to whether his team will cover the next staging of the games in four years’ time.
“I’m pretty certain we’re going to cover the next one. Because the experience taught us a lot. And the experience was very gratifying and I don’t see how we wouldn’t do the next one.”
As for Special Olympics Barbados, Thompson said they will continue working with the athletes to prepare for the next games.
“We would like at some point in time to arrange some more competitions for them so they would have the ability for outside competition to see what it’s like to go up against athletes from different areas and regions, and possibly different islands. That takes money so we are continuing our fundraising efforts to expand our programmes,” he noted.
Thompson stated he would also like to see the organisation grow to reach the entire intellectually disabled community.
“There are so many societies where these people are put to the back and people shun them and they don’t recognise their wisdom even.
“But that does not happen here in Barbados; I’m seeing more and more of an awareness of people with intellectual disabilities, and I hope that only grows so that they can take their place in the society,” he said.
Desiree is well on her way to taking her place in society. When she is not on the golf course or at the Challenor Adult Training Facility, she works part time at clothing and retail store, Unlimited Collections.
She continues to train, and is already looking forward to competing in the next Special Olympics in 2019.