A gold medal won in the Olympics triggers nationwide celebration. Yet, the fact that India has won over 70 gold medals in another version of the Olympics is a feat that has largely escaped our notice.

The Special Olympics, held in summer and winter editions, just as the Olympic Games, is for persons with intellectual disabilities (those with an Intelligence Quotient below 80). The SO World Summer Games (WSG) will be held in Athens, Greece, from June 25 to July 4.

Honour for athletes

As many as 185 countries are set to participate in the event. Of the 256 athletes representing India, 12 athletes and three coaches are from Karnataka.

The Karnataka chapter of Special Olympics Bharat (SOBK) honoured these 15 representatives at a send-off at the Kanteerava Stadium here on Tuesday. I.R. Perumal, Principal Secretary, Youth Affairs and Sports, promised Rs. 10 lakh to SOBK and Rs. 2.5 lakh to the athletes from the State, and to honour medal winners with cash awards on their return. For the parents, that their children represent the country is a matter of pride.

Vanitha Devraj, mother of Nisha Devraj who is a member of the handball team, said: “I never thought that Nisha would get such opportunities given her disability. The idea of her leaving me for a month is frightening, but Nisha is very excited and I hope she does well.”

Mariamma has four children with intellectual disabilities and her daughter Rosaline Mary is travelling as a member of the volleyball team and a special coach. Ms. Mariamma is indignant at the lack of awareness about the athletes' achievements. “I wish that the government would help make these games more visible, so that other children with intellectual disabilities can also join the programme.”

Air Marshal N. Menon (Retd.), president of SOBK, believes that the training given to the athletes aids in building their self-confidence and social skills and thus, empowers them.

‘Greatest victory'

“Parents who were reluctant to admit that their children had an intellectual disability are now proud of what their children are achieving and that is the greatest victory,” says Sugandha Sukrutaraj, vice-president, Special Olympics Bharat.

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