DAY 4: The highlights
Every day we bring you the joy, the elation and the human connection from the day’s events at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019
UNIFIED MOMENT OF THE DAY
The Special Olympics movement is all about inclusion and making a connection with fellow members of the human race and treating them as equals. Every day during the Games we will start with a unified moment of the day - one moment that for us signifies that connection.
On day 4 that was…
The UAE expressing solidarity with the victims of the hate crime attacks in Christchurch with a shared visit by Special Olympics New Zealand and Special Olympics UAE to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Day 4 highlights
Pure and unconditional love
Andrea Fraser is sitting on a bench while her son, Special Olympics athlete Santiago “Santi” Fraser gets ready for his next tennis match (singles and doubles level 3). An accomplished tennis player herself, she recounts their journey to this competition. To give an idea of the challenges and successes parents of children with intellectual disabilities can experience, the following are Andrea’s own words:
We have raised our children internationally: Argentina, France, the UAE. We have lived in Dubai for eight years, so this means a lot for us to be asked to represent the UAE in the tennis component of the Games. Over the years, as we have moved from country to country we have faced challenges finding coaches for Santi; they are just not always available. He loves football and swimming also, he is a very athletic young man! Although Santi has not had a coach recently, he was very focused on participating in this competition. He now has a wonderful job in the marketing department of a local bank, and I was a little concerned that adding such a responsibility as participating in the Games would be overwhelming. But he was focused and would get up an hour early each morning to make time to practice. Just being here is a thrill for him, and no matter how he performs, the Games have given him a boost in his confidence. I, myself, love being here surrounded by all of these determined athletes. They are all so positive and fill the air with love and connection. Having a determined child is one of the best things in our lives – he is always telling the rest of the family that everything is all right, don’t worry, just chill and be happy. Now, sitting, here, I’m surrounded by all of these athletes of determination sending out those same vibes: just love, the world will be a better place. Sometimes I am sad that not every family is privileged to have a determined child, as they give us such pure and unconditional love. We are grateful the UAE extended this opportunity to our family and all the families here.
Running away with it
Athletics continued full steam ahead today at Dubai Police Officers Club Stadium. The atmosphere was as heated as the weather in the stadium as divisioning in the arduous 5,000m running race got started. After the first two laps in the Division 3 race, it was Special Olympics Paraguay and Special Olympics Costa Rica who strode out in front, running almost shoulder-to-shoulder for the first couple of laps. With a gentle and unassuming determination, Special Olympics Ecuador's Jose Palacios was hot on their heels for the next lap until he passed them just into the third lap. He had an ambling and unconventional style to his gait but was clearly determined to pace this race perfectly, showing a well-judged attack on the lead while other runners started to feel the burn and dropped further down the field. Into the last 1,000m, Palacios and Munos were locked into a closely fought foot race.
This was a game of wits, each daring each other to make the final break with two laps to go. On the last lap, Palacios put on an incredible sprint from the starting line, developing as much ground as he could between him and his nearest competitor, lapping other runners as he went.
Lifting his arms as he came into the home straight and bringing the crowd to their feet, this was a perfectly planned and executed race from start to finish. But the race was far from concluded, as every other athlete on the field, bar none, seemed to find a fresh burst of energy to sprint home, pushed forward as their heart pumped furiously by the fired up crowd.
Pacing is always a challenge in distance track racing. Go out too hard and you risk total burn out, thumping pain and cramp as the runners you stormed past at the start pick you off one by one. Go out too slow and you may never catch the pack, let alone the leaders, forced to follow the tail end of the race as the early finishers punch the air in celebration. This is clearly something that Special Olympics coaches have worked on with their athletes with intellectual determination, overcoming that powerful desire to set an unsustainable pace from the start in the heat of the opening few minutes of the race.
It takes supreme confidence, the sort of confidence that Special Olympics can instill in its athletes, to head out strong in the front two and maintain that pace to the end. This, however, is what we witnessed in the 5,000m M04 divisioning race as Moncho Kamogelo set a blistering pace from the second lap of the race. With three laps to go Moncho had carved out a three-quarter lap lead on his nearest competitor. With one lap to go, he showed incredible sportsmanship as he patted the back of competitors as he passed them. Lifting his legs as if carrying out a high knee warm up, he cruised to the finishing line at a time of 16m:17 seconds. It was a comprehensive, confident and brave performance.
Raising the bar
It is beyond our wildest dreams to think that Kirby could not even walk until he was three but here he is competing at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi in the pentathlon, Kirby Oertling’s mother Stacey tells us as her son warms up for the fourth event in the five-event series.
‘Go Kirby! Go Kirby!’ shout the crowd as the USA athlete clears 1.12m after having only just faltered at the height on his first attempt. Like many of the Games, it is difficult not to think of the high jump in terms of a metaphor for the bars athletes and their families have to vault in their lives. If you don’t make it over one obstacle you have to pick yourself up and keep trying to clear it. Hopefully, with perseverance, you can raise the bar, be that in the standard of life or the achievements that these incredible athletes never thought they could tick off.
With competitor Brady Rose from Australia out at 1.12m the field was down to Kirby, who easily cleared 1.18m with a reverse version of the Fosbury Flip, and Christoph Bruegge who also easily clears 1.18m. With the bar now at 1.21m, Kirby steps up and clears it with inches to spare. A few clearances later and we are at 1.37m, which Kirby’s mother informs us is her son’s personal best. She is delighted that he is being challenged and clearly rising to the occasion. He is the only pentathlete in the state of Louisiana, Stacey beams. Kirby has now equaled his PB and is lining up to attempt 1.39m. Christoph makes it on his first attempt. After a bar clip on his first, what can Kirby do on his second attempt? He crashed through the bar, as Stacey cannot sit still in anticipation of his third attempt. Nervously shifting from seat to seat, desperate to see her son make it over the bar. Alas, Kirby bows out but a testament to the spirit of the Games Kirby’s cheer squad shout almost as loud for Christoph as the German continues to fly over the bar taking it to 1.42m. We are all in it together. After one fail he takes 1.51m at the first attempt and celebrated in style. Does he have more? At 1.54m and looking a little tired, two fails. And then a third. A wonderful display of sportsmanship and sporting capabilities on a gloriously sunny UAE day.
The high jump was a precursor to the pentathlon overall results, as Kirby and his parents were delighted with the 25-year old's silver medal, as we were sure Christoph and his family were with his gold medal in the Special Olympics male pentathlon.
Game, set and match made
Engaged Special Olympics tennis mixed doubles Level 5, partners Brittany Tagliareni and Ryan Smith of Special Olympics United States took home the silver medal at Zayed Sports City. They met in 2013 through Special Olympics in Florida. They have been practicing six days a week for up to five hours a day to be prepared. This exemplifies the definition of determination.
When asked what her favorite thing about competing in Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 has been so far, she said, “Participating, playing and meeting all the new friends I now have from around the world. It has been amazing. I like the tennis court a lot.”
Ryan’s favorite memory has been, “Being with Brittany and sharing this experience with her. I love the tennis courts and this facility we are playing on in Abu Dhabi. Winning a Silver Medal together is something we are so proud of. I am just having a lot of fun.”
It is evident that this dynamic duo accomplishes their goals together through the support of their family, friends, coaches and each other.
They are both looking forward to their wedding this October. Brittany especially wants a good wedding cake because she likes cake. When asked what gift do you want most for your wedding she replied very simply - “A wedding cake.”
As a child Brittany was non-verbal.
“Special Olympics has not only changed Brittany’s life but it has given Brittany a life,” Brittany’s mother Catherine said. For Ryan, there was a time where he could not read or write. Overcoming this huge challenge helped him realize he can accomplish anything he sets his mind too.
“It was hard. But I did it!”
Her broad and generous smile shows all that she loves her life. The game of tennis helps her sensory and visual issues challenges and it is the perfect sport for her and them. They play doubles and singles. “Playing doubles together makes their singles games so much better,” Ryan said.
She and Ryan are forever grateful to Special Olympics. They share the love of tennis, share a love of both being autistic and share a love of being together. This can be challenging, but they constantly encourage each other on and off the court. The future looks great for these two.