MANILA, Philippines – For one whole week, some 900 athletes will gather in the various playing venues for the Special (Para) Games of the Palarong Pambansa 2017 in San Jose de Buenavista, Antique.
While hundreds of the special education (SPED) athletes will be on the nation’s spotlight as they break stereotype and compete for the gold, a number of unsung heroes will be working behind the scenes. They are the SPED athletes’ coaches and mentors.
One of them is Stephanie Cedenio, a SPED coach from Zamboanga Sibugay. The job, according to her, is not for everyone. (READ: Palarong Pambansa 2017: The future begins here)
“Ang pinaka challenge, nako, kailangan patience, kailangan taas kayo nang pasesnsya para maka-handle kag special child sa mga special games,” Cedenio said.
(The most challenging thing is that you have to have enough patience – I need enough patience to handle a special child.)
Cedenio coaches Jessa, Joan, Marie, and Marnell, who will be competing at the track and field Special Games. They trooped to Antique with one goal in mind: to win the gold medal.
They trained every day in the past month for the biggest national sports event in the country.
For athletes and their family, coaches like Cedenio served as surrogate parents.
“‘Pag ang parents happy sila pag abot, nay medal ilang anak, magpasalamat sila sa akoa, so parang fulfillment para sa ako,” Cedenio said.
(Parents are very happy every time their kids win a medal. They will thank me. That’s a source of fulfillment on my part.)
Coaching SPED athletes is nothing short of difficult, Cedenio shared. According to her, the athletes whom she have been coaching have the tendency to throw a tantrum from time to time.
In her 7 years of coaching SPED athletes, Cedenio said quitting has crossed her mind a lot of times.
“But there’s part of me that urges me to continue being the coach because they need someone who will not just train them, but will also care for them. They are special, and they need special attention,” she said.
The special games, which was first included during the 2008 Palarong Pambansa held in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, include events such as athletics, goalball, bocce, and swimming.
“Malapit sa puso namin ang Special Games,” Department of Education Assistant Tonisito Umali said. (The Special Games are close to our heart.)
He added that some of the winners in the Special Games will receive cash incentive, “all in context of inclusive education when we talk about special education.” (READ: Silver, bronze medalists to receive more incentives)
Student-athletes with intellectual disability (ID), and those who are visually-impaired (VI) and orthopedically handicapped/amputee (OH) will participate in the different special games events. (READ: Barefoot runner overcomes Intellectual Disability, raises college funds through sports)
Dennis Esta, Tournament Manager for the Para Games, reiterated that athletes with disabilities will be well-taken care of.
"In-assure sa amin na magiging accessible naman yung magiging tirahan ng mga athletes at mabibigyan sila ng priority pagdating sa billeting quarters,” Esta said. (We assured that our venues and billeting areas are accessible to our athletes and that they will be given priority.)
The competition categories for the Special games are the following:
Aside from awarding the winning athletes first, second, and third places, medals will also be given to the fourth to eighth outstanding athletes per category.
With the Special Games underway, Cedenio reminded everyone how persons with intellectual disabilities should be treated.
"Maunderstand nimo sila, ang ilang disability, ang ilang pagkalahi sa normal student,so kanang bisang malagot naka, kaialangn makasabot ka nila mao jud ilahang pagkatao," she said.
(We should understand them, their disability, and their difference from normal students. Even though you’re fed up, you really need to understand them because that’s who they are.) – Rappler.com
Raisa Serafica is the Unit Head of Civic Engagement of Rappler. As the head of MovePH, Raisa leads the on ground engagements of Rappler aimed at building a strong community of action in the Philippines. Through her current and previous roles at Rappler, she has worked with different government agencies, collaborated with non-governmental organizations, and trained individuals mostly on using digital technologies for social good.