14:13
TEDxVancouver

Matthew Williams: Special Olympics let me be myself -- a champion

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How much do you know about intellectual disabilities? Special Olympics champion and ambassador Matthew Williams is proof that athletic competition and the camaraderie it fosters can transform lives, both on and off the field. Together with his fellow athletes, he invites you to join him at the next meet -- and challenges you to walk away with your heart unchanged.

- Special Olympics International Sargent Shriver Global Messenger
Matthew Williams believes that sport has the power to change lives. Full bio

Hello.
00:13
My name is Matthew Williams,
00:14
and I am a champion.
00:16
I have won medals
in three different sports
00:19
and national games in Canada,
00:22
competed at the international
level in basketball
00:25
and was proud to represent Canada
00:28
on the world stage.
00:31
(Applause)
00:33
I train five days a week
for basketball and speed skating,
00:39
work with top quality coaches
00:43
and mental performance consultants
00:45
to be at my best in my sport.
00:48
By the way, all that
is through Special Olympics.
00:52
Does that change the way you think of me
00:56
and my accomplishments?
00:58
The world does not see
all people like me as champions.
01:03
Not long ago, people like me
were shunned and hidden away.
01:07
There has been lots of change
since Special Olympics began in 1968,
01:14
but in too many cases,
01:19
people with intellectual disabilities
01:21
are invisible to the wider population.
01:24
People use the r-word in front of me,
and they think it doesn't matter.
01:29
That's the word "retard" or "retarded"
01:35
used in a derogatory manner.
01:38
They're not thinking about how much
it hurts me and my friends.
01:41
I don't want you to think
I'm here because I'm a charity case.
01:48
I am here because there is still
a big problem with the way
01:51
many people see individuals
with intellectual disabilities,
01:55
or, too often,
02:01
how they don't see them at all.
02:03
Did you know the World Games
happened this year?
02:06
I was one of over 6,500 athletes
with intellectual disabilities
02:10
from 165 countries who competed in LA.
02:16
There was over 62,000 spectators
watching opening ceremonies,
02:20
and there was live coverage
on TSN and ESPN.
02:26
Did you even know that happened?
02:31
What do you think of
when you see someone like me?
02:35
I am here today to challenge you
02:39
to look at us as equals.
02:42
Special Olympics transforms
the self-identity of athletes
02:47
with intellectual disabilities
02:51
and the perceptions of everyone watching.
02:53
For those of you who aren't familiar,
02:58
Special Olympics is for athletes
with intellectual disabilities.
03:00
Special Olympics is separate
from the Paralympics and Olympics.
03:06
We offer high-quality,
year round sports programs
03:12
for people with intellectual disabilities
03:16
that changes lives and perceptions.
03:19
This movement has changed my life
03:24
and those of so many others.
03:27
And it has changed the way
03:29
the world sees people
with intellectual disabilities.
03:31
I was born with epilepsy
and an intellectual disability.
03:37
Growing up, I played hockey
until I was 12 years old.
03:43
The older I got, the more I felt
03:48
it was harder to keep up
with everyone else,
03:51
and I was angry and frustrated.
03:55
For a while, I did not play any sports,
03:59
didn't have many friends
04:03
and felt left out and sad.
04:05
There was a time when people
with intellectual disabilities
04:10
were hidden away from society.
04:14
No one thought they could
participate in sports,
04:18
let alone be a valued member of society.
04:22
In the 1960s, Dr. Frank Hayden,
04:26
a scientist at the University of Toronto,
04:30
was studying the effects
of regular exercise
04:33
on the fitness levels of children
with intellectual disabilities.
04:37
Using rigorous scientific research,
04:43
Dr. Hayden and other researchers
04:47
came to the conclusion
04:49
that it was simply the lack
of opportunity to participate
04:51
that caused their fitness
levels to suffer.
04:55
Lots of people doubted
that people with intellectual disabilities
05:00
could benefit from fitness programs
05:04
and sports competition opportunities.
05:07
But pioneers like Dr. Hayden
and Eunice Kennedy Shriver,
05:11
the founder of Special Olympics,
05:16
persevered,
05:19
and Special Olympics athletes
have proved them right
05:20
four and a half million times over.
05:24
(Applause)
05:27
Before I joined Special Olympics,
05:33
I was nervous
05:35
because I was young, shy, not confident
05:37
and didn't have many friends.
05:41
When I got there, though,
everyone was very encouraging,
05:44
supportive, and let me be myself
05:48
without being judged.
05:51
Now, I am a basketball player
and speed skater
05:54
who has competed
at provincial, national games,
05:59
and this year made it all the way
to the World Summer Games in LA,
06:02
where I was part of the first ever
Canadian basketball team
06:07
to compete at World Games.
06:11
(Applause)
06:13
I am one of more than four and a half
million athletes around the globe,
06:21
and I've heard so many similar stories.
06:26
Being Special Olympics athletes
06:29
restores our pride and dignity.
06:32
Special Olympics also addresses
critical health needs.
06:37
Studies have shown that, on average,
06:42
men with intellectual disabilities
06:45
die 13 years younger than men without,
06:48
and women with intellectual disabilities
06:51
die 20 years younger than women without.
06:54
Special Olympics keeps us healthy
06:58
by getting us active
07:01
and participating in sport.
07:03
Also, our coaches teach us
about nutrition and health.
07:05
Special Olympics also provides
free health screening
07:12
for athletes who have difficulty
communicating with their doctor
07:16
or accessing health care.
07:20
At the 2015 World Summer Games,
07:25
my Team Canada teammates and I
played the Nigerian basketball team.
07:28
The day before our game,
07:34
the Nigerian basketball team went to
the World Games Healthy Athlete screening,
07:35
where seven of 10 members
07:41
were given hearing aids for free
07:43
and got to hear clearly
for the first time.
07:46
(Applause)
07:50
The change in them was amazing.
07:59
They were more excited,
happy and confident,
08:02
because their coach could
vocally communicate with them.
08:06
And they were emotional
08:09
because they could hear
the sounds of the basketball,
08:11
the sounds of the whistle
08:14
and the cheering fans in the stands --
08:16
sounds that we take for granted.
08:19
Special Olympics is transforming more
than just the athlete in their sport.
08:23
Special Olympics is transforming
their lives off the field.
08:28
This year, research findings showed
08:34
that nearly half of the adults in the US
08:37
don't know a single person
with an intellectual disability,
08:40
and the 44 percent of Americans
08:45
who don't have personal contact
with intellectual disabilities
08:48
are significantly
less accepting and positive.
08:52
Then there's the r-word,
08:58
proving that people
with intellectual disabilities
09:00
are still invisible
09:03
to far too many people.
09:05
People use it as a casual
term or an insult.
09:09
It was tweeted more than
nine million times last year,
09:12
and it is deeply hurtful
09:16
to me and my four and a half million
fellow athletes around the planet.
09:18
People don't think it's insulting,
09:24
but it is.
09:27
As my fellow athlete and global messenger
John Franklin Stephens wrote
09:29
in an open letter to a political pundit
09:35
who used the r-word as an insult,
09:38
"Come join us someday at Special Olympics.
09:42
See if you walk away
with your heart unchanged."
09:45
(Applause)
09:50
This year, at the 2015 World Summer Games,
09:59
people lined up for hours
10:03
to get into the final night
of powerlifting competition.
10:05
So it was standing room only
when my teammate Jackie Barrett,
10:09
the Newfoundland Moose,
10:14
deadlifted 655 pounds
10:16
and lifted 611 pounds in the squat --
10:19
(Applause)
10:23
setting huge new records
for Special Olympics.
10:31
Jackie is a record holder
among all powerlifters in Newfoundland --
10:36
not just Special Olympics,
all powerlifters.
10:40
Jackie was a huge star in LA,
10:45
and ESPN live-tweeted
his record-breaking lifts
10:48
and were wowed by his performance.
10:53
Fifty years ago, few imagined
individuals with intellectual disabilities
10:57
could do anything like that.
11:03
This year, 60,000 spectators filled
the famous LA Memorial Coliseum
11:06
to watch the opening
ceremonies of World Games
11:14
and cheer athletes from 165 countries
11:17
around the world.
11:21
Far from being hidden away,
11:23
we were cheered and celebrated.
11:26
Special Olympics teaches athletes
11:31
to be confident and proud of themselves.
11:33
Special Olympics teaches the world
11:37
that people with intellectual disabilities
11:40
deserve respect and inclusion.
11:43
(Applause)
11:46
Now, I have dreams
and achievements in my sport,
11:54
great coaches,
11:58
respect and dignity,
12:00
better health,
12:03
and I am pursuing a career
as a personal trainer.
12:04
(Applause)
12:08
I am no longer hidden, bullied
12:15
and I am here doing a TED Talk.
12:18
(Applause)
12:21
The world is a different place
because of Special Olympics,
12:56
but there is still farther to go.
13:01
So the next time you see someone
with an intellectual disability,
13:04
I hope you will see their ability.
13:08
The next time someone uses
the r-word near you,
13:11
I hope you will tell them
how much it hurts.
13:14
I hope you will think about getting
involved with Special Olympics.
13:18
(Applause)
13:23
I would like to leave you
with one final thought.
13:27
Nelson Mandela said,
13:31
"Sports has the power
to change the world."
13:33
Special Olympics is changing the world
13:37
by transforming
four and a half million athletes
13:39
and giving us a place to be confident,
13:43
meet friends,
13:46
not be judged
13:47
and get to feel like and be champions.
13:49
Thank you very much.
13:53
(Applause)
13:54

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About the Speaker:

Matthew Williams - Special Olympics International Sargent Shriver Global Messenger
Matthew Williams believes that sport has the power to change lives.

Why you should listen

Prior to finding Special Olympics, Matthew Williams struggled to fit in and keep up with his peers. When he joined Special Olympics in eighth grade, it had a profound impact on his life, helping him make friends, providing him with self-confidence and giving him an opportunity to participate in sports. Williams has achieved a great deal in his decade with Special Olympics. He competed in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in basketball, where the first-ever Canadian basketball team to participate in a World Games finished fourth. He has also participated in track and field, swimming, floor hockey and curling.

Williams is a Special Olympics International Sargent Shriver Global Messenger and a member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, where he shares athlete perspectives with leaders of this global movement. His goal is to spread the message and vision of Special Olympics far and wide.

More profile about the speaker
Matthew Williams | Speaker | TED.com