Special athletes take centerstage-A A +A
Monday, October 28, 2013
THE nine-hour land trip from Polomolok, South Cotabato proved to be challenging for Nellie Segovia, as she traveled with her 12-year-old intellectually disabled daughter, Jenny Joy.
Nellie was quite concerned that that travel time would be too tiring for Jenny, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome when she was born. She currently has a mental age of six years old. She also had to undergo three operations to correct an imperforate anus.
It was, however, a relief when she realized that her daughter seemed excited about the road trip. Nellie also observed that Jenny is thrilled to be with people they just met in the rented van that took them here.
One of their companions was Ernest Jay Pido, who was also traveling with her mother. She is 10 years old with a mental age of eight. Like Jenny, Ernest Jay has Down syndrome. She was also born with a cleft lip and palate and has hypothyroidism.
These two girls may have been born with multiple birth defects and are considered intellectually disabled (ID), but the trip to Cagayan de Oro City made an impact on their lives when they competed against several other ID children in the first Mindanao regional games of the Special Olympics Philippines (SOP).
They are among the seven delegates of South Cotabato and together with 98 other special athletes from Davao, General Santos and Cagayan de Oro City, they will be competing in athletics, aquatics and bocce.
“This is the first time my daughter joined such an event. She may not have gotten the gold but I just wanted her to get exposed…I don’t want her to be ignorant in interacting with other people,” Segovia said.
Founded in 1978, Special Olympics Philippines (SOP) is a nonprofit humanitarian organization, created to help individuals with intellectual disability achieve their potentials through an organized year–round program of sports training, athletic competition and recreation.
It is a member of the 23-nation Asia-Pacific Region governed by Special Olympics International, the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
The Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of former US President John F. Kennedy in the 1950s and early 1960s. She believed that if people with intellectual disabilities could accomplish more if they were given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else.
In the Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Athens, Greece in 2011, the Philippines with 38 ID athletes scored a total of 49 medals (21 gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze medals). The next Special Olympics will be held in Los Angeles, USA in 2015.
Vic Cinco, SOP Cagayan de Oro chapter president, explains that sports is the easiest way to communicate with ID persons.
“We want to create awareness that these mentally challenged persons should have dignity, recognition and respect…we want them to be accepted,” he said.
Cinco added that part of the organization’s goal is to teach mentally-challenged persons to be independent. He hopes that by teaching them independence, establishments will eventually hire them for employment.
“We want to encourage establishments to hire them for future employment… what they (establishments) do not know is that they will have tax credit when they hire intellectually disabled persons,” he said.
According to Leandro Neri, Cagayan de Oro chapter sports director and a former elementary school teacher, it is much more challenging for him to train mentally challenged children compared with the “regular” ones.
“Regular athletes train so they can get the gold. We train mentally challenged athletes so they can learn independence and social skills… eventually they can be mainstreamed,” he said.
Migo Mendoza, who at 26 years old, is one of the oldest competitor in the regional SOP. He represented Cagayan de Oro in bocce and athletics.
According to his mother Cora, Migo, who was only diagnosed as mentally challenged when he was already nine years old, did not realize what qualifying for the regional games meant until he was awarded a silver medal for the 100-meter dash.
“He was only excited to attend the event because he made so many new friends during the pre-qualifying games. When he received his medal, he was so happy with it that he asked permission from me and his father to go to the mall, so he could show it off to his friends there,” she said.
The “friends” that his mother is referring to are the employees of some known sports shops at a popular mall in the city. Though he has only attended several sessions at a special education school, Migo has excellent social skills. Proof of this is his numerous friends at the said mall. He was last diagnosed for his mental age five years ago. Mentally, he was 4 ½ years old then.
At the end of the regional games, every special athlete went home smiling. Aside from the first three placers, the other competitors were also recognized for their endeavor.
“Parents have given them a chance to be the best of what they are… some may not have won medals but they attempted to be the best at what they are,” said Judith Salih, head of the GenSan delegation.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 28, 2013.