Disabled athletes are overcoming all odds to chase their dreams

Bronze. Silver. Gold. India won them all at the Special Olympics 2011 in Athens, Greece. Forty years ago, however, children with special needs did not have the opportunity to obtain formal sports training. This changed when Eunice Kennedy Shriver noticed that such differently-abled children did not have any place to play; she invited them to play in her backyard as she believed that they could excel in sports and other outdoor activities.

This small initiative eventually grew into the global Special Olympics.

India's 2011 team of 183 athletes, out of which 40 were hearing impaired and the rest mentally challenged, won 78 old, 73 silver and 92 bronze medals. These athletes were coached by Special Olympics Bharat, an NGO in Delhi.

The talent of most of these athletes was noticed at the school-level from where they were guided by their teachers till today. The humble journey from school traversed through district sports meets to State-level competitions to eventually participating in national as well as international contests.

Apart from weekly training at their schools, the children also participate in State and national training camps in cities like Hyderabad, Puducherry and Chandigarh. These camps are 10 to15-days-long and are divided into two training sessions; morning and evening.

The camps also hold recreational and fun activity sessions. A medical check-up of all the athletes is done and orientation sessions for coaches are organised to help them improve their instruction skills.

Talling about the good time they have at the camps, Sunny Sharma — a member of the bronze-winning volleyball team — says, “We really enjoy during these camps as we get to make new friends and practice to our hearts' content.”

Hearing impaired athletes usually learn by imitation as they have high visual intelligence. Basketball coach Sulekha Rana says: “We don't have to tell them how to do it. We just have to show them once how it is done. They see and learn.”

Communication, however, sometimes poses a problem with coaches finding it difficult to explain complex techniques and situations. At times, they are unable to understand what their students are trying to tell them due to their limited facility with sign language.

These minor issues cannot deter the athletes' confidence though.Keshav Chaturvedi, gold and silver winning power-lifter, says it did not matter to him because he feels that during a competition all are equal.