Sports act as a great leveller universally. Through sports, one exhibits leadership qualities, and it encourages teamwork. It improves social skills and reduces stress. Sports also gives a lot of confidence to individuals. Moreover, the health benefits of sports are known to everybody. But most significantly, it encourages us not to discriminate based on skill, colour or religion. When we are in the sports field, we are all equal. So, sports have many advantages for the development of children with and without intellectual disabilities.
Sports for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disability (IDD) is an important component for their overall development. People with IDD face many associated issues such as limited communication skills, inability to walk, balance etc. Special Olympics Bharat is a National Sports Federation that uses sports as a catalyst to transform the lives of children and adults with intellectual disability. It is accredited by Special Olympics Inc. USA to conduct its Sports programs all over India. So far, it has helped over a million of athletes and has paved a new road.
Twenty-four-year-old Rithik Hukku, joined Special Olympic Bharat in 2004 after he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For his treatment, Rithik was taken to VIMHANS at New Delhi. Cricket interested him most and went to the Dronacharya Academy. Over there he got connected with Mr Satyendra Kumar who was a Delhi coach for Special Olympics (since 2004) and this way we got to know about Special Olympics Through his coaching from Satyendra and got his first chance to go to Alwar for a softball match. Earlier he used to communicate only with Satyendra and not with others, but later he was seen interacting with more and more people. He made friends at the Cricket Academy. His strength in Cricket as told by his Coach is that he is a medium-pace bowler.
He participated in the SO Asia Pacific Regional Games in December 2013 held in Newcastle, Australia. He participated in Cricket there. He participated in all the three Annual Special Olympics South Asia Cricket tournaments held in Bangladesh and in India, from 2016- 2018. Rithik was one of the Athletes who were identified as showing the potential to assume leadership roles. He participated at the Youth Summit held during the World Games in LA USA in 2015 and attended the Global Youth Forum held in Baku Azerbaijan in 2018. He is privileged to share that he played as a teammate with Dr Tim Shriver, Chairman, SOI, at a Unified Sports experience at Baku. Rithik's mother Mrs Poonam Hukku said, "No one could understand his problems, but I always supported him and went against the family for his treatment. The doctors asked us to channelise his energy in a sport, which he liked most. Then he started playing cricket where he showcased his immense dedication."
When asked about the stigmas he has been dealing with, Poonam said, " I always stood beside him. I explored all possibilities and shifted to Delhi from Jaipur for his growth. I made him do what he likes most and sent him to the best cricket academy for his growth and practice, which later on shaped him of being what he is now."
Twenty-four-year-old Shrey Kadian joined Special Olympic Bharat in 2008. He loves sports, in general. He has played cricket, cycling, softball. He participated in Cricket at the inaugural Asia Pacific Regional Games in 2013 with his team winning a Silver medal. He was the Vice-Captain of the softball team that played its inaugural round at the Special Olympics World Summer Games held in LA, USA in 2015. His team won a Gold Medal in a match played against SO Australia.
Shrey could barely speak during his nascent age, After placing him in a playgroup, there were often complaints of his aggressive behavior and hyperactivity. As he was aggressive by nature, he hurt himself as well as hurt others. Shalini Kadian, his mother had faced many moments of distress and isolation owing to her son’s condition. "At family gatherings she was literally sent aside because everyone feared that Shrey would spoil others’ children. Shrey was treated like a ‘Virus’ that is infectious. He was looked down upon, because according to them, everything that he did was ‘wrong’. Today Shrey is invited by people. His family goes to places because of Shrey. At events, he represents his family, his state and his country. Persons like Shrey are so pure-hearted, they never hurt anyone, in fact we do that. Their simplicity is a gift of God to them. We need to learn to accept them." says Sahalini. She adds, "When Shrey started sports he participated in multiple disciplines- running, cricket, football and got extremely happy. He would get ready quickly to go to the nearby park, by himself. We realized that Sports changed his mood and steered his energy away from hyperactivity and aggression."
Special Olympics Bharat is the biggest Special Olympics programme in terms of numbers, yet they have only touched a very small percentage of the population that exists in India. So, the motivation is there to reach more people and keep expanding.