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My name is Matthew Williams,
and I am a champion.
I have won medals in three different sports
and national games in Canada,
competed at the international level in basketball
and was proud to represent Canada
on the world stage.
I train five days a week for basketball and speed skating,
work with top quality coaches
and mental performance consultants
to be at my best in my sport.
By the way, all that is through Special Olympics.
Does that change the way you think of me
and my accomplishments?
The world does not see all people like me as champions.
Not long ago, people like me were shunned and hidden away.
There has been lots of change since Special Olympics began in 1968,
but in too many cases,
people with intellectual disabilities
are invisible to the wider population.
People use the r-word in front of me, and they think it doesn't matter.
That's the word "retard" or "retarded"
used in a derogatory manner.
They're not thinking about how much it hurts me and my friends.
I don't want you to think I'm here because I'm a charity case.
I am here because there is still a big problem with the way
many people see individuals with intellectual disabilities,
or, too often,
how they don't see them at all.
Did you know the World Games happened this year?
I was one of over 6,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities
from 165 countries who competed in LA.
There was over 62,000 spectators watching opening ceremonies,
and there was live coverage on TSN and ESPN.
Did you even know that happened?
What do you think of when you see someone like me?
I am here today to challenge you
to look at us as equals.
Special Olympics transforms the self-identity of athletes
with intellectual disabilities
and the perceptions of everyone watching.
For those of you who aren't familiar,
Special Olympics is for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Special Olympics is separate from the Paralympics and Olympics.
We offer high-quality, year round sports programs
for people with intellectual disabilities
that changes lives and perceptions.
This movement has changed my life
and those of so many others.
And it has changed the way
the world sees people with intellectual disabilities.
I was born with epilepsy and an intellectual disability.
Growing up, I played hockey until I was 12 years old.
The older I got, the more I felt
it was harder to keep up with everyone else,
and I was angry and frustrated.
For a while, I did not play any sports,
didn't have many friends
and felt left out and sad.
There was a time when people with intellectual disabilities
were hidden away from society.
No one thought they could participate in sports,
let alone be a valued member of society.
In the 1960s, Dr. Frank Hayden,
a scientist at the University of Toronto,
was studying the effects of regular exercise
on the fitness levels of children with intellectual disabilities.
Using rigorous scientific research,
Dr. Hayden and other researchers
came to the conclusion
that it was simply the lack of opportunity to participate
that caused their fitness levels to suffer.
Lots of people doubted that people with intellectual disabilities
could benefit from fitness programs
and sports competition opportunities.
But pioneers like Dr. Hayden and Eunice Kennedy Shriver,
the founder of Special Olympics,
and Special Olympics athletes have proved them right
four and a half million times over.
Before I joined Special Olympics,
I was nervous
because I was young, shy, not confident
and didn't have many friends.
When I got there, though, everyone was very encouraging,
supportive, and let me be myself
without being judged.
Now, I am a basketball player and speed skater
who has competed at provincial, national games,
and this year made it all the way to the World Summer Games in LA,
where I was part of the first ever Canadian basketball team
to compete at World Games.
I am one of more than four and a half million athletes around the globe,
and I've heard so many similar stories.
Being Special Olympics athletes
restores our pride and dignity.
Special Olympics also addresses critical health needs.
Studies have shown that, on average,
men with intellectual disabilities
die 13 years younger than men without,
and women with intellectual disabilities
die 20 years younger than women without.
Special Olympics keeps us healthy
by getting us active
and participating in sport.
Also, our coaches teach us about nutrition and health.
Special Olympics also provides free health screening
for athletes who have difficulty communicating with their doctor
or accessing health care.
At the 2015 World Summer Games,
my Team Canada teammates and I played the Nigerian basketball team.
The day before our game,
the Nigerian basketball team went to the World Games Healthy Athlete screening,
where seven of 10 members
were given hearing aids for free
and got to hear clearly for the first time.
The change in them was amazing.
They were more excited, happy and confident,
because their coach could vocally communicate with them.
And they were emotional
because they could hear the sounds of the basketball,
the sounds of the whistle
and the cheering fans in the stands --
sounds that we take for granted.
Special Olympics is transforming more than just the athlete in their sport.
Special Olympics is transforming their lives off the field.
This year, research findings showed
that nearly half of the adults in the US
don't know a single person with an intellectual disability,
and the 44 percent of Americans
who don't have personal contact with intellectual disabilities
are significantly less accepting and positive.
Then there's the r-word,
proving that people with intellectual disabilities
are still invisible
to far too many people.
People use it as a casual term or an insult.
It was tweeted more than nine million times last year,
and it is deeply hurtful
to me and my four and a half million fellow athletes around the planet.
People don't think it's insulting,
but it is.
As my fellow athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens wrote
in an open letter to a political pundit
who used the r-word as an insult,
"Come join us someday at Special Olympics.
See if you walk away with your heart unchanged."
This year, at the 2015 World Summer Games,
people lined up for hours
to get into the final night of powerlifting competition.
So it was standing room only when my teammate Jackie Barrett,
the Newfoundland Moose,
deadlifted 655 pounds
and lifted 611 pounds in the squat --
setting huge new records for Special Olympics.
Jackie is a record holder among all powerlifters in Newfoundland --
not just Special Olympics, all powerlifters.
Jackie was a huge star in LA,
and ESPN live-tweeted his record-breaking lifts
and were wowed by his performance.
Fifty years ago, few imagined individuals with intellectual disabilities
could do anything like that.
This year, 60,000 spectators filled the famous LA Memorial Coliseum
to watch the opening ceremonies of World Games
and cheer athletes from 165 countries
around the world.
Far from being hidden away,
we were cheered and celebrated.
Special Olympics teaches athletes
to be confident and proud of themselves.
Special Olympics teaches the world
that people with intellectual disabilities
deserve respect and inclusion.
Now, I have dreams and achievements in my sport,
great coaches,
respect and dignity,
better health,
and I am pursuing a career as a personal trainer.
I am no longer hidden, bullied
and I am here doing a TED Talk.
The world is a different place because of Special Olympics,
but there is still farther to go.
So the next time you see someone with an intellectual disability,
I hope you will see their ability.
The next time someone uses the r-word near you,
I hope you will tell them how much it hurts.
I hope you will think about getting involved with Special Olympics.
I would like to leave you with one final thought.
Nelson Mandela said,
"Sports has the power to change the world."
Special Olympics is changing the world
by transforming four and a half million athletes
and giving us a place to be confident,
meet friends,
not be judged
and get to feel like and be champions.
Thank you very much.
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Special Olympics let me be myself — a champion | Matthew Williams

18 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on July 3, 2020
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