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Philippine team strikes gold at Special Olympics

Twenty-two gold medals, 49 medals overall.

It was a golden harvest for the 38 extraordinary young men and women who made up the Philippine team that competed in the recently concluded Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. From June 25 to July 4, 7,500 athletes from 185 countries with various levels of intellectual disability competed in 22 Olympic-type sports.

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Special Olympics is founded on the belief that people with intellectual disabilities can, with proper instruction and encouragement, learn, enjoy and benefit from participation in individual and team sports. The Special Olympics website states that “Dignity, acceptance, and a chance to reach one’s potential—these are human rights worth promoting for everyone.

In the Philippines, Special Olympics Philippines, was founded in 1978, and presently has 12,500 intellectually challenged athletes and 4,000 volunteer coaches registered in 13 regions throughout the country. Governed by a board of trustees headed by its vice chair and president, Ma. Therese J. Macapagal, Special Olympics Philippines is one of 22 members from the Asia-Pacific Region.

Great love, patience

Macapagal, who accompanied the delegation to Athens, was beaming with pride at the accomplishments of the Philippine team. “This only goes to show that when parents, teachers, communities and local government pull together, anything is possible. It takes great love, patience and support to achieve what these young people and their families have done,” she said.

Macapagal, who is married to former Olympian and current president of the Philippine Olympians Association, Arturo Macapagal, is the mother of Andrei, now 45, who was born with autism.

The gold medalists come from diverse backgrounds.

Just call me ‘Magiting’

One of the more senior ones is Magiting Gonzales who won three gold medals in the Powerlifting event. The 33-year-old library assistant at the National Youth Commission was born with autism but has an awesome memory for the smallest of details, birthdates specially. True to his name, his mother says, Magiting was never one to back down from difficulties. At his high school graduation from OB Montessori in Greenhills years ago, his batchmates gave him a standing ovation.

Louie John John Decolongon, 22, also garnered three gold medals in three separate divisions in the Powerlifting event. Louie, who was born with mild retardation, hails from Iloilo where his talent in powerlifting was discovered one day when his neighbors noticed that the teener was able to lift sacks of rice singlehandedly over his head. He lives in a small shack with his widowed father and says that if he ever wins any prize money, he would use it to buy a carabao so that their work on the farm would be made much easier.

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In the gymnastics category, the lone athlete was La Union native Melanie Valdez, 17, who was also born with mild mental retardation. She brought home two golds for the Philippines.

Liza May Dayon, who competed in the Bocce event (a sport similar to bowling but played on natural soil or asphalt) is from Cadiz City. She was born with mild mental retardation and has had to contend with seizures for most of her life. Liza won two gold medals.

It takes a village

Macapagal said that funding for the team came from various sources. “I was very grateful that many of their local governments were quite supportive of their athletes. The mayors of Cadiz City and La Union were fully supportive of the athletes who came from their province. Even corporations pitched in to help. Companies like Toyota Iloilo and La Union helped fund the trip and the training that was needed.” The NCR delegates, Macapagal said, found the money for their uniforms and jackets and also sought help of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

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TAGS: Athens, Greece, Special Olympics Philippines, Special Olympics World Summer Games
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