Never too late to be inclusive
We are never too old to learn new tricks, whether it’s a sport, a skill, or even to adopt a new mindset.
I have, over the past year, trained hard in a sport I have never been exposed to – powerlifting.
At 41, I am the oldest athlete representing the Philippines at the upcoming 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi.
Sports has been a huge part of my life since I was a teenager. It is through sports that I found my voice, my confidence, and my sense of self-worth.
I went through a tough childhood. In school, I was bullied, taunted, and excluded for being slow. Because my IQ is lower than average and I tend to stutter, some of my schoolmates looked down on me and called me “crazy”. The turning point came when I joined the Special Olympics movement at the age of 15.
For the first time, I had coaches and friends who believed in me. To have people rally around me, cheering me on and encouraging me to achieve greater heights, was something I had never experienced my entire life.
I started training in athletics, and eventually found the confidence to try a range of other sports including bocce, bowling, basketball, table-tennis and football. With the unwavering support and faith of my coaches and team-mates, I started to believe in myself. I became more independent, confident, and disciplined.
I have since taken part in countless national competitions, and won many medals in various sports. Every medal represents a special achievement. One of the most significant moments was when I returned with a silver medal from the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai with the basketball team.
We were one of the smallest in stature compared to the other teams at the Games, and we didn’t think we would get far in the competition. It was the first time I was representing my country at a global event, and the feeling of satisfaction was immense.
I have grown not just as an athlete, but as a human being. I try to take care of the people around me, and volunteer to serve the community as much as I can.
In 2009, there was a huge flood in Manila and many homes in the community were destroyed or severely damaged. I found out that the home of one of our friends was submerged, and steeped in water and mud.
After the waters subsided, I gathered a group of Special Olympics athletes and turned up at her doorstep early the next morning to offer our help. Every day for the next two months, we cleaned up the mess and helped with repairs. She very kindly offered to pay us, but we declined as we felt it was our duty as friends and members of the community to give back.
Over the years, I have been volunteering as an assistant coach to train younger athletes, and become an active advocate for inclusion in the Philippines. I’ve since been trained in public speaking, and have also shared my knowledge on health and nutrition with the families of people with intellectual disabilities at various events.
My wish now is to spread the message that parents should never be ashamed of their children, regardless of their ability. If we all have a chance to be loved and respected in a supportive environment, we will surprise you with what we can achieve.
If I can, at the age of 41, transform my mind and body to master a challenging sport like powerlifting, I believe all of us are capable of change and transformation.