Some people say childhood is the best part of one’s life, with the sweetest memories. It wasn’t true for me at all. I recall being a sickly child, often spending my days in cold, clinical hospital rooms.
But the worst part was constantly feeling like an outsider; like I didn’t belong. I had no friends. My childhood was a lonely one.
I needed a blood transfusion as a newborn as I had anaemia. I was a tiny baby. Growing up, I fell sick often. I was physically weak and had poor eyesight. As a young child, I had to wear glasses. I felt awkward and shy because other children would make fun of my appearance. They pushed me around and taunted me with chants of “Ugly! Ugly! Ugly!”.
My IQ was generally lower than other children. I didn’t speak well and struggled to express myself. I had a hard time with reading and pronouncing words. I couldn’t understand the teachers’ instructions. My grades were terrible. The other kids laughed at me for being slow. They excluded me from their games.
When I was in the second grade of primary school, a teacher said that I would have to repeat that year as I had failed most of the subjects. My mum decided to transfer me to a school for children with intellectual disabilities.
I remember the first time I visited the new school to seek an application. The principal didn’t want to accept me because of my health condition and turned us away. We were devastated that a school for children with special needs would say no to us.
Fortunately, a teacher stepped in. Her name is Miss Ida. She promised to be my mentor and agreed to be personally responsible for my growth and development in the school. She convinced the principal to give me a chance.
Meeting Miss Ida changed my life. I can’t begin to describe that feeling of having a stranger believe in me for the first time in my life. I was so grateful.
Life took a turn for the better from that moment on. Miss Ida personally coached me and introduced me to various sporting activities. I also joined Special Olympics Indonesia and started training in athletics. My coaches were extremely patient with me. I built up my stamina by first walking, then brisk walking, and finally running.
Building up my strength as an athlete has taken almost a decade. Today, I’m a sprinter. Sports has helped improve my health tremendously. I’ve also made many new friends.
This year, I was chosen to represent Indonesia for the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi. I was so nervous before the races. I never expected to win, but I clinched a gold and a silver medal in the 100-metre and 200-metre races respectively. I returned home celebrated as a hero and champion. It felt incredible that I had made my mum and Miss Ida proud.
Today, I’m 18 and no longer a sickly child. Beyond sports, I’m now being trained as an athlete leader for Special Olympics to be a voice for people with intellectual disabilities, to help the public understand the issues that concern us.
I want to continue inspiring other people – with and without intellectual disabilities – to chase their dreams. I want to play my part in helping the world understand that regardless of our abilities, we are all one and the same.