“We need more people like Tanmay to join Special Olympics so that they can interact with the athletes and see how wrong they are” Tanmay Agarwal
I’m currently an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in the United States studying Physics with minors in Leadership and Management. I’ve been associated with Special Olympics since 2012, so you could quite literally say that I’ve grown with the organization. I started out learning about the organization and it’s vision through workshops and unified sports sessions and over time, I began to use my experience to conduct Youth Activation Workshops in multiple schools across Delhi-NCR. In the summer of 2016 I interned with Special Olympics Bharat and organized ‘Pratishtha’, a one of its kind event that brought medal winning athletes from the Special Olympics in the playing field with the general public.
Over these 6 years, I have donned different coats, but every time that I thought I was doing the work for the organization and its athletes, I ended up learning and growing immensely and I couldn’t help but realize that Special Olympics had instead done a lot for me. Answering with utmost honesty, I came in with unconscious biases and stereotypes in my mind. Interacting with the athletes at Special Olympics helped me understand that the presence or absence of an ability has no correlation to success and satisfaction in life; that the metrics that we often measure our lives with are our society’s own creation and those who venture out of this box to achieve what they aren’t expected to, go beyond the systems of privilege that exist in our world today.
It would be a funny world if everyone could do everything, but the truth is that each one of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. Yet, we as a society have categorized the community of individuals with an intellectual disability as an outlier from what we like to call the mainstream, but in reality they couldn’t be more similar to us. We have just highlighted, and even named the community by what they can’t do while simultaneously turning a blind eye to where they are strong. This is exactly what Special Olympics tries to undo. Here, we talk about capabilities and we talk about what we can do with the resources at hand. Does that sound like a way of life different from what you lead yourself?
Over and over again, I have met individuals at Special Olympics that have brought me face to face with my biases and have shattered every expectation of what I thought they could or couldn’t do. Special Olympics has taught me compassion but most importantly it has taught me how individual transformation is achievable and how misguided preconceptions can be. We need more people like Tanmay to join Special Olympics so that they can interact with the athletes and see how wrong they are, so that they too can stand in awe of these athletes who bring our country laurels from the Olympics, and then work through sweat and storm to help create a better and inclusive society.
In the August of 2018, I was also fortunate to be selected as a Delegate to the 22nd Session of the Youth Assembly, organized in the highest form of collaboration with the United Nations. As a delegate, I participated in training sessions and discussions led by industry leaders on marketing and advertising, entrepreneurship and business development, technology prototyping, patenting and intellectual property portfolios and acclimatizing to the fourth industrial revolution. At the Assembly, I presented my ideas and perspective that I learned from my work with Special Olympics in discussions on creating equitable institutions and reducing inequalities in society corresponding to the 10th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) adopted by the United Nations.