For more than 43 years, Special Olympics Guam has worked hard to bring smiles to its athletes’ faces - and in 2019 they’re giving Guam's more to grin about than ever before.

This year, SOG added badminton to its already impressive four-sport lineup and plans on adding soccer. While SOG offers track and field, swimming, bowling, and softball, badminton offers another avenue for those with disabilities to get involved in the community, stay fit, and improve their lives.

“We wanted to introduce the sport to the athletes … because it gives the athletes another outlet, other than the four sports that we have,” said Paul Mendiola, SOG sports program director. “So, now that we added badminton, it’s allowed those athletes that can’t participate in a certain sport a choice.”

“I think it’s a nice fit for the island and I think that it’s going to go further than we can imagine right now,” said Frank Florig, SOG chief executive officer. “I think that badminton will become one of the popular sports.”

Florig, who was on-hand teaching the athletes, feels that incorporating badminton into the fold will have a more far-reaching effect than just benefitting the island.

“We’re looking at Guam being a regional hub for the Pacific Islands which includes Marshall (Islands), Palau, the FSM (Federated States of Micronesia) and Saipan,” Florig said.

On Monday, Aug. 26, SOG and the Guam National Badminton Federation kicked off their program with more than 25 athletes participating in their first bi-weekly training program at the Dededo Sports Complex. With Ian Gil Piencenaves, a badminton coach from the Philippines breaking down instruction into bite-sized pieces, athletes embarked upon their new journeys.

“This is just the start of their training,” said Piencenaves, whose first lessons started with the athletes hitting balloons with their hands. “It’s necessary to make badminton simple for children to understand, starting with developing hand-eye coordination."

“From there, we get to train their balance, and stability,” he added. “I think they’re doing great. It’s really up to their ability. … We take it slowly, day-by-day. We focus on problem-solving exercises and activities.”

“This is my first time,” said Bernadette Colet, an athlete who smiled while hitting a purple balloon to volunteer Kyrra Oien. “I love it.”

For Oien, love was a two-way street.

“It’s always something I loved to be involved in, and I love volunteering for it,” said Oien, an active member of the military who has been on Guam for two months. “I think that it’s awesome that these kids are giving it a try.”

Oien said that Special Olympics Guam is “a super cool organization, giving people a chance to put their athleticism to the test.”

“All the kids here are super great,” she added. “They’re super friendly (and) super understanding.”

With practices scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday and Friday at the Dededo Sports Complex, GNBF President Sandra Low urges families to have their athletes try badminton.

“All they need to do is contact Special Olympics, and sign up through their portal, their Facebook page, or give them a call, or just show up," Low said.

“We make it fun for them," she said. "It's not competitive."

With enough training, Mendiola hopes to mainstream the SOG athletes alongside those without disabilities.

“At Special Olympics, we’re trying to do an inclusion,” he said. "We’re hoping that we can get these kids trained enough that ... they can be coming here on Tuesdays and Thursdays and start playing alongside with the federation.”