Special Olympics Guam is working to resume activities that celebrate our island community's residents with special abilities.
It's part of the organization's mission to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
The annual athletic events bring together hundreds of athletes, family and friends, and volunteers. However, last year's activities were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health emergency restrictions that shut down the island. The governor recently transitioned the island into Pandemic Condition of Readiness 3, which is the step closest to normal for Guam. With PCOR 3, the governor eased restrictions on activities.
Frank Florig, CEO and president of Special Olympics Guam, said they're planning to hold soccer, bowling and badminton events this year.
The organization may also hold baseball events but are working with local government officials for clarification because recent announcements on authorized sporting activities looked to be specific to high schools.
"We are hoping it can happen and are working with local government officials," Florig stated, noting that baseball could start in June. Other events will likely start in the next couple of months.
He said the organization can always use help from the community.
In 2019, they had 552 athletes and 120 coaches. Assuming they have a high participation rate of people with special abilities, the organization is opening to get more coaches this year.
Typically, athletes are divided into groups and a coach and a team of volunteers are charged with helping each group. This year, the groups will be smaller to meet public health requirements, which means there will be more groups that need coaches and staff.
The organization also relies on donations and sponsorships. The government typically provides the use of facilities for athletes without having to pay an entrance or user fee.
Florig noted that the Guam Football Association, Badminton World Federation and Oceana are among the sponsors that provide support for athletes.
"Overall, we rely on private corporations and citizens to assist us in all aspects of Special Olympics events – funding, coaching, volunteering, etc.," he stated.
'A blessing to our community'
Special Olympics Guam's typical competitive year includes track and field, softball, swimming, bowling, badminton and soccer.
"Our programs are all designed to address local-island living that addresses everyday challenges and concerns. We also provided a Family Health Forum addressing issues surrounding this pandemic," Florig said.
By promoting the overall improvement of personal wellness, the goal is to help people with special abilities learn to be more independent.
"The island community, including those that are here temporarily (military families, educators, etc.), view persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities as a blessing to our community," Florig said.
Leah Mendiola Baguinon, an educational interpreter for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, agreed.
"(People) concentrate too much on the disability but not the person himself or herself," Baguinon said. "Or if they see an individual with disabilities park in a handicap parking space and have a handicap placard, they expect to see a physical disability where the person comes out with a cane or wheelchair."
Baguinon added that those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDD, should always be seen as a person, not their disability.
"Respect their individuality and identity as a person first and allow them to have their dignity and self-advocacy," said Baguinon.
Florig shared the same sentiment, adding: "They should absolutely be prioritized and normalized in the community."