7,500 athletes from over 190 nations participated in The Special Olympic World Games in front of 40,000 spectators, held in Abu Dhabi from March 14th to 21st, 2019. The Special Olympics is the world’s largest humanitarian international sporting event which uses sports as a platform to unite people with intellectual disabilities with the rest of the community. Its mission is to promote positive social change for people with intellectual disabilities and create a more inclusive society through understanding, acceptance and inclusion. Along with the 7,500 athletes, teams of volunteers from across the globe assisted in the games. Amongst those were TIS brothers Hope (Grade 11) and Luke (Grade 10) who volunteered as Unified Partners and together with their teammates won gold in the golf tournament at the games.
Luke and Hope have been playing golf since the ages of 7 and 8, respectively. Encouraged by their parents, and through hard work and dedication to the sport, they now compete regularly on the international junior tournament circuit. So when it came time to submit their experience proposal for their Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) module for school, they both knew right away what they wanted to do. It had to involve something they loved – golf! Following a discussion with their parents and the school advisor about their interest in coaching and helping players with special needs, they were introduced to their father’s former student who works in the Athletic Department of the Special Olympic Games who suggested the boys should consider being coaches and unified sport partners for the Macau golf team.
What is a Unified Partner?
Unified Partners are individuals without intellectual disabilities who train and compete as a teammate alongside Special Olympics athletes on a Unified Sports Team.
What was the process in becoming a Unified Partner?
Before they started coaching the team, Hope and Luke met with the young athletes with intellectual disabilities on several occasions in order to get to know their strengths, abilities and personalities. The boys would coach the athletes once a week, teaching them different golf skills such as long games, short games, chipping and putting.
Any special memories you can share about your teammate and the competition?
Hope: Even though we had been training together once a week for the past two years, we have never played on the course as a team. Communication and collaboration was the major obstacle. In order to overcome communication problems, we tried to speak slowly and put what we said in different ways to help them understand. They tend to be quite shy, so patience is of great importance. Through coaching my teammate, I have learned to be more empathetic and patient. Together, we have become better communicators too. In order to be successful as a team, collaboration is a key element to achieve. As we talked more often to each other, we began to develop a closer relationship and the bonds between us became stronger.
Luke: In the beginning, we didn’t know much about each other. After spending two weeks in the same room and playing alongside each other, we got to know each other, on and off the course. My perspective about people with intellectual disabilities has changed. When faced with difficulties and struggles, most of us would choose to give up. However, they are confident and persistent. The magic moment happened on the last day of our game, even though we didn’t play well in the first three days, we encouraged each other to try our best. In sport, sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but no matter what the result will be, we need to be strong and not quit. In the end, we played exceptionally well and won a valuable gold medal by a narrow margin. The athletes are an inspiration, getting to know them has made us realise that nothing is impossible.
Their journey as volunteers for the Macau Special Olympics is scheduled to be complete once they finish high school, however, they have enjoyed the experience so much that both Hope and Luke have said they will continue to volunteer in whatever part of the world life takes them after graduation.