Have an open heart and mind

Have an open heart and mind

My year-long journey as a volunteer with Special Olympics Singapore has been absolutely rewarding. I have stepped out of my comfort zone to take part in a sport I barely knew anything about.

I’ve made new friends, taken part in competitions with this team, and grown together with them.

 When I first signed up as a volunteer, I didn’t know anyone and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at how supportive and encouraging everyone was. It didn’t matter that I was new to the sport, that I didn’t know the rules, or that I made mistakes. All the athletes, volunteers and staff were open to teaching me the game, and gave me the space to learn and grow.

Through Special Olympics, I met Praven, an athlete with intellectual disabilities.

From the first training, I was impressed with the team’s superb skills and ball control. Some team-mates, like Praven, are blessed with a natural athletic grace and agility. I can only hope to keep up and not be a burden to the team.

Praven faced learning difficulties when he was growing up, and studied in a school for children with special needs. He mentioned that he developed an interest in sports because of his father, who is an avid sports fan and exposed him to soccer, athletics, and badminton. He joined the Special Olympics movement when he was only 9 and that has allowed him to build his confidence, and showcase his sporting talent to the world.

I am inspired by the dedication of our athletes. Despite having hectic work commitments, they attend trainings religiously. They make time to arrive early and practice. They start their warm-up exercises on their own initiative, even when the coaches have yet to arrive. When training begins, water break is just another term for individual practice time.

The team’s hard work paid off when they returned from the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria with a silver medal in floorball. They did our nation proud.

The beauty of floorball is that it’s not a one-person game. Our coach constantly reminds us to pass to our teammates whenever the opportunity arises.

When everyone gives and takes, it builds a safe learning environment, which in turn, helps the team to grow. No one is benched for failing to perform. Instead, we are encouraged to try and are not judged for making mistakes. Regardless of the person’s skill level, you will always hear cries of, “Just take a shot!”

This doesn’t mean there’s no desire to excel. We are a competitive team. We train to improve and ultimately, to win. At times it can get frustrating to be down by several points but this only pushes the team to fight harder. We don’t stop trying until the match ends.

People who watch our games are sometimes surprised to learn that our team consists of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities. Every member of the team is treated equally and without prejudice, and it is my wish that the rest of our community will do so too.

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