Special Olympics – Champions of Challenges

Making Sports an integral part of living with a disability: the true heroes in Sports
Remember those childhood days of impulsive ideas, when you aimed to be the next Tendulkar after your dad gave you your first bat, the next when you broke your first window; the younger Michael Jordan, with your first slam dunk and thought that the world was at your feet?

Remember how indomitable you felt after your first victory and how possible it appeared to make it big in your favorite sport that you were so passionate about? But, after you realized that fame in the field isn’t merely about instant victories, your passion dwindled. Time and age swept that confidence, you complained about the lack of coaches, of life’s other burdens and slowly, ended up remaining a passive witness to the sport you once worshiped.

Who pursues their dreams, anyway? With so many hurdles in one’s path, most people give up at the end, you might say. If this is what you believe, then it’s obvious that you are unaware of sports true heroes. No, not the regular idols that are fawned upon by the public and flaunted in advertisements by the media. It is the mentally and physically disabled, intellectually unfortunate, challenged sportsmen, for whom, mere survival is a challenge. Probably, they haven’t had the privilege of practicing a powerful stroke in tennis, sporting the hottest Nike shoes, jumping high up in the air to score that basket or even letting themselves free and splashing in the local swimming pool. But these fiery young guns believe that the lack of an arm, a leg , the sense of sight or the sense of sound, are no barriers to their path to success. With the proper guidance, they believe that they can do it.

Recognizing their needs in India is the Indian branch of the parent organization titled-Special Olympics International, founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of former US President, John F Kennedy. An association that aims to bring these youngsters into the mainstream and instill a sense of achievement in their lives is ‘Special Olympics-Bharat’. It has established 26 sub-programmes in 24 States involving over 230,000 registered Special Athletes. It strives to bring about a change in the way the world looks at the mentally challenged.

Special Olympics organizes national and international sports meets that try to unite the family members of the mentally challenged people from different parts of the country with people facing similar problems. The sense of joy and elation that participants feel, by competing in challenging activities in front of a varied audience is truly invigorating! This initiative also strives to transform the status of the differently-abled in society. It wants to convert the general emotion of pity that the ‘normal’ section of society feels towards them, into that of inspiration and encouragement.

Recognizing the needs of the physically challenged is a similar platform, the Paralympics. It runs parallel with the Olympics, involving participants from all over the globe in various categories of the competition.

The United States has gone ahead to recognize wheelchair tennis and basketball as official sports. Special wheelchairs for athletes are lightweight for rapid movements. There is even a ‘Power Wheelchair Racing Association’ for people who want to train for the Special Olympics.

Another outdoor sport that may be available to people with disabilities is hunting. In some places there are trails that can be used by hunters in wheelchairs. Some disabled hunters use specially designed guns that are fired by blowing air through a tube! Recently, the Special Olympics introduced the Special Olympics Heroes Award that honors inspiring participants of the vent, their coaches, their supportive family members and volunteers. It is immensely inspiring to learn about such a sporting events.

The thought that often privileged youngsters just blow away opportunities owing to fear of underachievement, lack of motivation or at times, sheer indifference, only reinforces the true meaning of the Special Olympics oath, ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt’.

Neha Bhat
Hyderabad, India