Through the eyes of an Olympian

Special Olympics (SO) is a platform that uses the power of Sport to empower children with Intellectual Disabilities (ID). It gives them the opportunity to showcases their hard work, dedication and commitment and sporting talent to the world. To prove to the world that ID is not a stigma of society but a strength of an entirely different order.

The region in and around Anantapur has known Rural Development Trust (RDT) to nurture and develop the future of ID youth, alongside talented athletes through Special Olympics’ concept of unified sport. These youth are developed through a holistic program encompassing a sound education, vocational training while playing sports. And Bathalapalli is home to RDT’s Special Olympics program, where several ID youth are guided and trained to succeed as champions, in life in general, with sports as a medium of change.

Singamsetti Vani is an example of such empowerment that was developed and prospered through SO thanks to RDT. Hailing from Muduguppa in Anantapur, Vani was always inclined towards sports. But being ID prompted family to disallow her to play with others of her age. However, anticipating Vani’s love for sports, her parents brought her to RDT’s Bathalapalli campus in 2013, which presented her a changed life that she lives today.

Vani’s typical day begins with an hour of Volleyball training along with her fellow colleagues, followed by breakfast at the Centre for ID. Academics and Vocational training (VT) trail that until lunch, where they focus on one activity a day. Academics consisting of basic English, Math, Telugu and other subjects while VT entails agriculture, cooking, carpentry or gardening.

Lunch is followed by a nap. Vani’s siesta then sees her off to quickly change into sporting attire, to head to the gym for her afternoon Badminton session. The hour and a half long session is followed by a tea break. Vani is quickly back on court for another 90 minute session of Volleyball that makes her feel at home as she plays against the RDT staff through the unified sport program. A time, that sees her competitive best, pulling her teammates in, leading and handling everybody with utmost care and affection. Rightly dubbed, the “Mother to all” almost always presents the visitors with defeat and cheers them up later with the biggest grin possible. She finally calls off her day to make time and watch TV until dinner time, where she helps her mates in preparing meals making use of her cooking training.

Through the Special Olympics program, the lives of children much like Vani have been transformed. They are international athletes now but more importantly active members of society with a contagious exuberance and the ability to be independent, bringing joy to the people of Anantapur through sports.

The holistic approach, highly dedicated and caring set of teachers, coaches and support staff continue to encourage parents and youth in Anantapur. They are gradually understanding the importance and impact of sports in society. They now can see how sport can enlighten their future as well as bring in lasting change to society at large by way of the SO program.

Enric Romaguera, RDT’s Special Olympics program coordinator says “Vani is a multi-talented team player, with incredible Volleyball skills. She is an extremely cheerful soul. A prime example of the fight against odds to eventually emerge as a champion.” Referring to Vani’s Bronze winning performance at Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015 along with 12 mates who represented the country in various disciplines and the joyful tears of Vani’s parents on her return.