I used to be reserved and lacked confidence. Finding my voice made me really anxious, and I couldn’t muster the courage to speak up in a crowd. I never thought that I could ever be a leader.
But all that changed when I got involved in the Special Olympics movement, in particular, the Athlete Leadership Program which empowers young people with and without intellectual disabilities to become advocates for inclusion.
I can still recall the first session very vividly. Scared witless, I made my way to the venue, Grace Orchard School, without knowing anyone there. Lucky for me, I was grouped with an encouraging and lovely bunch of young people who made me feel at home. They were the people I would train to become a leader with. As the weeks went by, we would often speak our hearts because we had, amongst only us, an unspoken trust.
It was through this program that I met Florence Hui, a Special Olympics Singapore athlete leader with an intellectual disability. She is one of the main reasons I have evolved to become the leader I am today.
In the beginning, whenever I got anxious and afraid to voice my thoughts, she would gift me words of encouragement and remind me that we’re in it together, so there’s nothing to be fearful of. Her words sounded simple but they were so sincere, and have impacted me a great deal.
I’m so proud to have a friend like her. Over time, we have grown together. We embolden and solace each other and I absolutely could not ask for more.
Before Special Olympics, I had never once given a thought about people with ID, their daily lives, opportunities or lack of, and I had never heard the term ID. Intrigued, I proceeded to attend the weekly trainings with the Special Olympics Badminton Outreach team every Thursday with my schoolmates.
I was thrilled to volunteer and share the interest of sports with new friends and people of different abilities. It was a little nerve-racking in the beginning (especially as I’m not the most outgoing person) but I got settled in almost immediately because the athletes were just so warm and inviting. That was the moment I learned that people with ID are no different from all of us.
One of the first Special Olympics athletes I got to know through badminton training was Ethan. Every training, I would partner Ethan and we would work on his swings. Just like the other athletes, Ethan would find the drills exacting but after much encouragement and cheers for the tiniest of accomplishments, Ethan improved tremendously. This proved to me that with proper guidance and in an inclusive environment, athletes with ID are just as able to accomplish what neurotypicals can.
It was gratifying for both of us to witness his astounding progress. Although the training was tough, he remained bubbly and eager to learn. Ethan taught me the importance of perseverance and tenacity.
I was hooked. I ventured into other sports with Special Olympics, including floorball. It was unnerving for me as I rarely played team sports. I would often struggle with the drills and being a complete novice, I didn’t have the confidence to approach those around me for help. But to my surprise, Ramadhan, an athlete, came around to help me. He was patient and assured me that I could depend on him and the other teammates for help. It was heartwarming. I felt completely out of place before, and there he was, coaching me – a total stranger – boldly out of his own initiative. His act of kindness inspired me to do the same for others.
The athletes of Special Olympics have made me feel like family. They helped me find my voice, my confidence, and my leadership abilities. I am now determined to continue serving as a volunteer and youth leader. The fortitude, joy, and anticipation I’ve experienced have been indescribable. I have become a better player, better leader, better person, and I am grateful towards all the athletes, coaches and staff who have touched my life. Moving forward, I hope there will be less discrimination, more awareness and greater inclusion in this world. I pledge to do all I can to end misconceptions and injustice, and to do my part to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities to shine in all aspects of their lives.