MEET THE TEAM: Special Olympics Philippines
With Filipinos making up an estimated 5.5 percent of the UAE population it is time to meet the kabayans (fellow countrymen) who will be representing the Philippines at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.
The Philippines national team has competed in the Special Olympics World Games a number of times and most recently sent a 54-strong squad in 2015 to the U.S. to compete in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. The team there competed in seven sports - powerlifting, athletics, aquatics, bowling, unified 5-a-side football, and rhythmic gymnastics. This time around, at the World Games in Abu Dhabi, they have added bocce and badminton to that list. Here are some of the athletes who will be following the royal blue and scarlet of the Filipino flag through the Zayed Sports City stadium at the opening ceremony in March.
Brina Maximo – International Global Messenger
Brina is a shining star of the Philippines Special Olympics team having been recently minted as the Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger. To mark her appointment Brina gave a rousing maiden speech in Washington D.C. In the speech, she talked about how, despite being diagnosed with Down Syndrome, and noted as having ‘a borderline IQ’, she went on to defy expectations and graduated from college with a degree in Advanced Placement World History.
Brina is no stranger to the limelight having previously been invited to the White House to represent the Asia Pacific region at the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit.
She was even lauded by President Barack Obama who said: “Brina Kei Maxino represented the Asia-Pacific region at the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit when she was 16 years old. She was the first Filipina and the first teenager with Down Syndrome to do that so let’s give Brina a big round of applause. Yay, Brina!"
Brina is employed as a pre-school assistant and works hard to raise perceptions towards people with intellectual disabilities and tackle bullying.
“Some people think we are not good enough. They are wrong. We can do more and be more!” said Brina, who is living proof of this sentiment. “If only the world will give us the fighting chance.”
Maria Theresa Colina - Rhythmic gymnastics
For Maria, gaining the chance to compete in the Special Olympics Philippines National Games was a life-changing experience. Maria has cleft palate and intellectual disability and says that she was always bullied, ridiculed and excluded as a child. Of course, this meant that she became psychologically closed off and refused to talk to people and would constantly cover her mouth to hide her cleft palate.
From the Northern Luzon province of the Philippines, the 16-year-old had national games to remember bringing home two golds, one silver and one bronze medal. But above all, Maria came back from the national games with a renewed sense of self-confidence. Her neighbors and schoolmates started to notice her and respected her. She now makes friends more easily and above all is more talkative. So, if you happen to meet Maria when she is in Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics World Games next month competing in rhythmic gymnastics make sure to say hi!
Marlon Tindoc – Powerlifting
Marlon is a Special Olympics tour de force having competed in athletics, bocce, bowling, basketball and football and has been involved in the Special Olympics movement since he was 15 years old. While Marlon is representing the Philippines in Abu Dhabi in Powerlifting, he has previously donned the national 2007, World Games in Shanghai, as part of the basketball team, and later on in Malaysia as part of the football team.
In an interview translated from his own language, Marlon said: “I can say that Special Olympics changed my life. It taught me how to be independent, confident, and disciplined. I see sports as my life and I will always be grateful to Special Olympics for the opportunities I was given.”
“Before, I was no one, but through Special Olympics, I was able to accomplish many things. Now that I am older, my desire is to teach other special children and new athletes to become great athletes like me. I always volunteer and offer my help…I also want to tell the people and families that they should never be ashamed of their special children, they should accept them and love them. I also want to tell them that they should join Special Olympics,” he added.