It is the athletes from Special Olympics Jamaica who have made me different than the man who joined in 1996 to coach volleyball. Before that I could not deal as well with people and I was more quick to anger, but being around persons with intellectual disabilities teaches you to be calm, more respectful of differences and able to communicate better.
When you are a Jamaican, people around you put children with disabilities down saying they are this and that. But being around them and knowing them, you quickly get to know the people that they are.
Training special athletes, you have to be calmer, to listen to them and in fact you often have to be their brother and their father because some of them do not have that in their life. Sometimes I ask myself who is learning more – them the athletes, or me the coach?
Embracing the underdog spirit of these athletes
What made me really fall in love was how these athletes would come into Special Olympics from nothing. A lot of them could not pass the ball and to bring them from there to where two of my teams came back from Abu Dhabi with Gold and Bronze medals. Let me tell you, that is the best feeling!
The Special Olympics family has also had a really positive impact on my own family. I have one daughter who will be 23 years-old this year, and a son who sadly passed away when he was five.
As a father, I used to get angrier much quicker. Corporal punishment was always what people used to deal with children around the time I became a father. Thankfully, that was never me but this experience with Special Olympics definitely helped me avoid it – to be calmer and to be able to talk to my daughter, and not react with violence.
The Special Olympics family has helped my family
Growing up she has known that her father has never hit her, which has helped me to teach her that if a man hits you, he will do it again unless you leave. She has taken that message seriously. All of this is coming from my own personal growth with Special Olympics, that my daughter now knows enough to hopefully have a safer life as a woman in Jamaica.
Thinking about all this, I find it hard to put into words how much volunteering for Special Olympics can do for you as a person. You just will not realise the change happening unless and until you come and experience it yourself.
UNICEF recently signed a new $12-million partnership with Special Olympics that will enable them to reach more children across Jamaica. This includes the construction of new playgrounds; early childhood level unified sport; healthy athlete screening; family health education; and training of Special Olympics staff and volunteers.