Every Monday and Thursday, a small but unique group of 15 regularly gather in front of the empty spectator stands at Bishan Stadium, to train for races such as the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore.
Amongst them are Shaun and Lin Han – clients of Christian Outreach to the Handicapped (COH) – and their volunteer coaches, who help out in Special Olympics Singapore’s sports training programme for persons with intellectual disabilities.
Selfless, Patient Volunteers
These selfless volunteers from the Special Olympics Outreach Running Club come from all walks of life, hold day jobs, but turn up faithfully two weekday evenings to serve and coach the intellectually disabled.
A sense of anticipation hangs in the air, whilst everyone waits around, uncomplaining, for their fellow team mates to gather.
During the warm up exercise, the COH clients seem to be either non-responsive, aloof or distracted. Other excitable charges unleash an exclamatory outburst or two, whilst the quieter ones look locked in their inner world.
|Shaun & Lin Han with their volunteer coaches||Warming up for the training session|
All take their training seriously.
The experienced mentors are familiar with each trainee’s quirks, character, personality, traits and respective sensory limitations. They are exceedingly patient in guiding their charges on the correct body postures for stretching, gently repeating instructions in sometimes creative and amusing ways.
They are constantly encouraging their wards to look up and have direct eye contact when talking to others.
The atmosphere is relaxed, gracious, friendly and inclusive. There is a strong sense of camaraderie in this special circle of friends.
Serious, moving stuff
Mondays are for speed training, track workouts (6x400m; 4x800m), timed striding, and exercises to strengthen core muscle groups like crunches, planks, dorsal raises and bridges.
On Thursdays, they train for endurance by focusing on long distance running.
The COH clients sometimes outperform able-bodied sportsmen. They are treated as peers in the group, though the trainers are constantly watching over them discreetly, to ensure safety and well-being.
As the runners exit the stadium and head towards Bishan Park, Mr Khor and Madam Annie – parents of special needs trainees – chat and tuck into a simple takeaway dinner, whilst waiting to accompany their children home.
Their conversation strikingly reveals their dedication and unconditional love: Each child – with or without special needs – is a gift to be cherished.
|Lin Han getting ready for the run||After warm up, exiting stadium to Bishan park|
Friendship in a Lonely Stadium
At about 8:30 p.m., the runners return one by one. They are soaking in perspiration, but their spirits are soaring. Pacing to catch their breaths, buddy coaches come alongside their charges to affirm with claps of Hi-Fives, applause and encouragement. The group then moves to a sheltered space below the spectator gallery for warm down exercises, debriefing and sharing.
|An exhausted Shaun recuperating||Lin Han having many sips of water after the run|
Each person gets a chance to relate how he or she feels about the run. No one interrupts; everyone waits good-naturedly for their turn to speak, be it in complete, clear sentences or in gestured mutters, and staccato snaps.
They fill the vast and empty stadium, with a spirit that is big hearted and warm, and with conversations which are meaningful and engaging. Here, everyone who’s present has his or her place, space and say.
|Gerald guiding athletes on stretching||A happy Lin Han sharing with Jasmine and Yuni|
About the Author: The COH Resource Team comprises volunteers, content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals.