Our special athletes

equal but

We all look forward with great anticipation to the Olympic Games held every four years in a different nation every time. We all “call” the winners for the respective events and root for specific countries or individuals based on past performances or the expectations which we have of them. However, you look at it, we love the games!

I am sure that the athletes, on the other hand, while probably having feelings of anxiety, are bursting with pride at the opportunity to represent their country. There is usually lots of planning and excitement surrounding the event since this is understandably a very costly undertaking, and corporate and Government entities are asked to do everything possible to make this a reality.

From the game’s opening ceremony and the carrying of the flag to just being counted as one of thousands from all over the world participating and making their mark for self and country is a feeling of great pride.

This is why I think it is of great importance that we support our Special Olympians when it’s their turn to take to the track. That time happens to be this Wednesday, March 26, at the National Stadium. Please come out and support them. Even if you can only do so during your lunch hour, I’m sure that this would be greatly appreciated.

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I have a question though. Do we seriously think of these special Olympians as athletes? When we are asked to donate to a cause or venture where they are involved, do we really see them as being worthy of our time or money, or are they just another “charity case”? After all, they’re not “real” athletes.

Sure, we could understand the need for them to feel empowered, enthusiastic and even accepted as part of the wider community. But do we really value them as athletes?

I will bite the bullet and ask another question. When we want to send a team to the bigger Special Olympics event, do we think that it is a waste of our time and resources? After all, they’re not “real athletes”. Our Olympians have been very successful on the international field and deserve to be able to make this trek on an annual basis. I remember only last year when the team had to be cut because of lack of finances.

I may be wrong, but I cannot remember ever hearing of a team other than this one having to be cut so significantly or even in danger of not attending because of lack of finances. Note, I used the word “significantly”.

I would sincerely hope that the measuring stick which is used for our able-bodied Olympians, CARIFTA athletes and all others who attend various regional and international sporting events is the one which is used to measure our special Olympians.

Everyone is quick to talk about the global recession and the state of economic affairs when it suits them, but will give, once they deem the cause worthy. Sponsorship is acquired for lesser events, and while everyone is entitled to their opinion on what I would call “lesser”, stay tuned for upcoming events in this Crop Over season and see what I mean.

When a call is made for monetary donations for causes that uplift, inspire or that gives an individual the motivation or drive to be all that they can be, we seem to very tight-fisted with our money.

The thing about these Olympics is that they are more than just games. These special athletes are already at a disadvantage socially, mentally, physically. They could easily be sitting at home doing nothing but feeling sorry for their lot in life as a disabled person; but they have chosen to believe in themselves and operate differently.

We also fail to realize that just like in any other sporting event or activity, they are required to train and practise; they want to achieve their best time; and aim to show the world the talent which Barbados has and the Caribbean as a whole. You see, they are on a quest for so much more than just the average athlete.

They want to prove that despite their challenges, they have the determination to press towards the mark of equality and acceptance and have loads of fun while doing it.

When we begin to change our attitude and view our special Olympians with the same seriousness as our able-bodied athletes, it is only then that our perspective on life in general will change. It changes us individually and as a people, and helps us to take a good look at ourselves and others with whom we share the same space.

As the quote on the Special Olympics website says: “Special Olympics is humanity’s greatest classroom, where lessons of ability, acceptance and inclusion are taught on the fields of competition by our greatest teachers – the athletes.”

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I thank all those of you who have come forward and given to the athletes in whatever form or fashion, whether it is giving of your time to volunteer, or giving your money to support their cause, and hope that more would do the same.

It’s time that we get rid of the negative stereotypes and misconceptions which we have, and see these Special Olympic Games as having great value for our special athletes and us as a people. The heart, soul and spirit which they put into their events is a life lesson which we can all learn and benefit from.

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