EnricRomaguera: “If our athletes become mirrors for other people with disabilities, this has been a success”
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Enric, along with his technical team, accompanies and coaches the 34 athletes at the Special Olympics.
● Enric coordinates the Special Olympics project where 34 youngsters with intellectual disabilities participate
● Disability is one of the main reason for discrimination in India.
Without EnricRomaguera (1982, Picassent, Valencia) the Special Olympics Project wouldn't have reached this level. This professional licensed in physical education science arrived 4 years ago as a volunteer in India and established the base for this program: to implement physical education in all the resident centers for people with disabilities, where 1,400 youngsters reside. This is how this group of athletes started, without forgetting that "behind all of these athletes with disabilities , there is a young person". He coordinates, organizes, administers and does so many other things. He faces with illusion the olympic championship for people with intellectual disabilities that will take place from July 25th to August 3rd in Los Angeles. But it's not about him, it's about the thirteen athletes that have been his teammates for years during Enric's life, among the other 21 athletes that were not selected by India's National team. Right now he is facing the highest point in sports during his work at the Vicente Ferrer Foundation: The Special Olympics.
¿Why are the Special Olympics so important?
Our athletes are people that have been born in a country where disabilities are aestigma, but through sports they can have a better future. Many of them wouldn't be able to have any opportunities if it wasn't because of Vicente Ferrer Foundation and the Sports. Just because of that it's important that the Special Olympics take place.
Besides, if our 34 athletes become the mirror of many other people with disabilities, they will see that everything is possible -when they know of them and hear their story- that disability is not anstigma, then this would be a success.
¿How have the Special Olympics changed the 34 people that have participated in this project?
It has changed the way the face life. The girls and the boys in the Special Olympics (SO) are more courageous, they are braver and they want to keep trying.
With this project we have been able to empower the athletes, to make them valiant and to trust in themselves. To be integrated a person must know himself/herself and SO has done a big part on this.
When you started working on this project 4 years ago in 2011, did you think it would come to this point?
No, I didn't think that. In 2011 I saw everything very green with my western perspective. Without physical education as a base there can't be a competent sports team. Here there is no physical activity as a way to improve health. We are in a place where sports are for rich people, and for those who have free time.
Now we are creating a habit of sports as a way of insertion. And to go from 2 Special Olympics Athletes to 13 athletes that are going to Los Angeles in 3 years, not in my wildest dreams.
¿What differences have you seen from Special Olympics Athens 2011 to Los Angeles 2015?
Back then there was an athletics coach with a 2athlete’s team. Right now we have 4 coaches plus 3 Spaniard volunteers that use innovative techniques for the 34 sportsmen in the project. At this moment we apply professional sports techniques. We know the peak of training and we know when the decrease the workload so they can arrive in their most optimal condition to the championship.
Besides, one of the most important factors is that our trainers have been with us for a few years now. They believe in this project. This is very important since a lot of people from the region tend to leave to other areas in India.
¿What is your prognosis about the 13 athletes that will participate in the Special Olympics?
If I had to guess, I think that more than half of our athletes will get a medal. Because they train every day and they love what they do.
But this experience is not about the numbers or the prizes. The medals are beside the point. They are going to be with 7,000 kids from 170 countries, they are going to see cultures from all over the world. For the first time they will use an elevator. For the first time they will see the ocean! I think they will never forget the experience they will have in Los Angeles.
The young athletes from Anantapur (rural India) are going to one of the most modern cities in the world, Los Angeles. What do you expect about this change?
The impact is going to be brutal. From rural India to the big urban of Los Angeles, there is a whole abysm. Everything will be a surprise for them. Things as basic as utensils, to something like going to the bathroom where there will be toilet paper. They will see Hollywood! I won't be able to stop taking pictures to capture their surprised faces.
There are 34 athletes in the campus but only 13 will compete in Los Angeles. What happens with those that have not been selected?
All of them, classified or not are part of the team, -with "India" on their backs and "RTD" on their chest. All of them participate in the training and they are in the team photos.
While some of them will be competing in the US, the other will watch them through an online platform. They know they have a chance to classify in the next competition. They will see it as an inspiration.
And when we come back we are going to their towns to tell them about the experience. So their town and their people know about this. We are going to tell their people that "they made it, because they are able". We can't forget that the objective of Special Olympics is to empower them.
Women, just for being females are already in disadvantage in India, and if they are disabled that is a second obstacle. What do you think about the future of the women athletes in the project?
They have seen that they are able of personal development and that they can face life. If they have been able to fight and overcome their adversaries in competition, this means they are also able to overcome this stigmas.
Through sports we have made them strong, and with the parallel professional training we offer (Vocational Training Program) we have made them useful for the society where they live. This experience in the SO will help to change the perspective society has of them.
For example, is very difficult that a disabled woman gets married here in rural India, but one of our athletes is getting married. I think they have a good future.
¿What would happen to all the boys and girls without the Special Olympics?
Special Olympics is an enhancer, it's a program to bring out the best of the people that goes through it. Without this opportunity they wouldn't have strongself-esteem, they would have a harder life, and they would struggle more.
The name of the competition defines them perfectly: they are not people with disability, they are special people. And just like the best days in our lives, what could be best than being special.