LEGACY: More than a sporting chance...It’s official...Special Olympics changes lives!

It is said that sport is a great leveler. We find out why it also a really good way to improve the lives of those with intellectual disabilities.

February 28, 2019
February 28, 2019

LEGACY: More than a sporting chance

It is said that sport is a great leveler. We find out why it also a really good way to improve the lives of those with intellectual disabilities.

“Special Olympics gave me a real boost of confidence within myself. It changed my whole entire life,” says Devin, an athlete with Special Olympics based in the States.

It’s official. Special Olympics changes lives!

From helping to draw people out of their shells and make lifelong friendships, to improving their health, their skills and overall well-being, getting involved in Special Olympics impacts people in ways that last a lifetime. And sport is one of the key methods employed to do so.

The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, which will kick off two weeks from today, offer athletes from around the world, both young and old, the opportunity to show off their athletic skills. The Games are about so much more than that, though.

Everyone’s a winner

Competitions encourage people with intellectual disabilities to take advantage of the physical and cognitive benefits that come from exercise. They also focus on helping each athlete to express what makes them unique and to accept themselves for who they are. The events focus on helping the athletes to become the best person they can be.

“I feel like I’m part of a team, and that they [people] see me for who I am, and not my disability,” testifies Devin.

More importantly than anything else, though, Special Olympics strives to improve the overall lives of people with intellectual disabilities using sports. The organization focuses on the acceptance and inclusion of people with varying abilities. Ensuring these individuals are living their lives to the fullest extent possible is what it is all about.

Maria Kennedy Shriver, the daughter of Eunice Shriver, who founded the organization, reflected that: “Half of the country says they know someone [with an intellectual disability], but a small percentage of people actually say, ‘I’m friendly with or I have a friend who has an intellectual disability.’ So, that tells me that inclusion works, that experience with this community matters.”

The science bit…

Through various studies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted that physical activity can help people with disabilities increase their independence, as these activities increase their ability to complete daily living tasks. The CDC also notes that people with disabilities are at a higher than normal risk for cardiovascular diseases, obesity and mental health conditions, especially depression. Better physical strength and stamina, weight control, and increased balance lead to a decreased risk of chronic disease for all of us. People with cognitive disabilities are just like anyone else, exercise is a health benefit to them and decreases their risk of these chronic conditions. Increased independence also helps to improve an individual’s self-confidence, which further aides to improve overall mental health.

The Mayo Clinic has also found that exercise can assist in decreasing symptoms associated with mental health diagnoses. It is believed that one of the reasons activities, enjoyed with others, help to decrease symptoms of depression is that they decrease feelings of loneliness.

One bowling competitor, Erin, said she enjoys how friendly everyone is. She stated, “everyone comes around and gives big hugs and stuff.”

Participation matters

At Special Olympics, competitions and events, everyone receives a medal. This helps each competitor feel included, and that their effort and achievements are being rewarded. Competition, however, is by no means the main focus, and the participants’ ability levels aren’t compared. Instead, everyone is encouraged to support each other to reach the highest level of achievement within their capabilities. The participants’ self-confidence improves as they master new skills and learn the ins-and-outs of their chosen sport. Participants are used to being singled out for their differences. At Special Olympic events, however, it is their abilities and the skills they bring to the table that are focused on instead.

Marcia, a soccer player, stated: “It’s always been a little uncertain, trying to navigate the waters of life. Now, I have much more confidence. I’ve been able to branch out and show what I offer.”

Many parents of athletes felt the participant had benefited from the experience as well. One mother stated these activities mean that “her daughter can meet other people who are going through the same things she is.”

The parents felt the participants’ social interaction skills and independence were improved by the activities.

A lasting impact

Increased daily living skills, physical stamina and social skills obtained through Special Olympics events can help the participants in sometimes, not-so-obvious ways as well. An example of this is that an increase in an individual’s independence and skill level can also increase the likelihood they’ll be able to acquire a job in the future, further increasing their self-confidence and feeling of purpose in the world. You just have to look at the UAE’s own Clara Lehmkuhl – the UAE’s first Zumba instructor with determination. Read more here .

Special Olympics helps the athletes who participate in its events to increase their independence and skills. This gives them more than a sporting chance at achieving their goals and dreams and living the highest quality of life possible. What more could any of us hope for?

GET INVOLVED – Make sure you are part of the largest humanitarian event the UAE has ever hosted. Visit meetthedetermined.com now to find out more