“Special Olympics is my world. It is my family. It means togetherness for me. If we are playing, participating, we are getting back a lot more. I have learnt so much more here than from my mainstream engagements. Sports expands to embrace Inclusion involving emotions, outlook, sensitivities and families”- says Coach Sheetal Negi, SO Bharat Chandigarh. She has been associated with Special Olympics since 2016 through her mentor and her inspiration, Late Dr DS Chavan, former Director of Government Rehabilitation Institute for Intellectual Disabilities (GRIID), a Special School located in Chandigarh.
Chandigarh was the first state to register for the event and they also volunteered to perform at the inauguration of the ESPN Virtual National Cricket Competition. There were no examples before them. Soon after consenting to perform first, Sheetal encountered a series of hiccups that fuelled her determination despite facing an added and a huge challenge posed by the lockdown. T shirts and equipment had to be arranged within limited time frames, not including the weekends. The last T shirt was delivered to an Athlete minutes before he had to perform! Earlier, for the practises Sheetal visited the homes of all the Athletes to ensure that the demo videos were comprehended appropriately. One of the Athletes was over 40 years of age, making his parents, senior citizens, unversed with the virtual platform.
The greatest challenge stood her way when two of the eight team players withdrew couple of days before the event. Their withdrawal owed to tragedies in their families caused by the pandemic. There was no way that they could participate. With Sheetal herself, having to face a tragedy in her family, reached out to another Coach to ensure that the practises go on. The new replacements were identified and their training began.
The plan was to call them to a common point for practises. The sports complex was closed due to the pandemic, but she managed to reach out to a Community Centre who allowed her to carry out the practises in the parking lot. The City admin graciously permitted her with a few leverages (and not all) on a condition to strictly comply with Covid protocols. That was an achievement that she celebrated with the SO Bharat Chandigarh Area Director- Ms Neelu Sarin , the School authorities of GRIID ,her family and friends who teamed up with her to keep the Chandigarh Athletes very much on the map.
Needless to say, Sheetal is a Coach who is loved by her Athletes while the Athletes continue to keep her momentum going. Tushar Arora, 20 yrs, medallist in Athletics, undergoing handball training and passionate about Cricket, was excited to be part of this event. He is also a regular participant of the Sports training sessions that Sheetal takes online. As his mother Mrs Tarun Arora says, “Sports keeps him happy and shows him a direction. He has become independent as he doesn’t like to miss a single Handball class. He drives down in his Activa (battery run two-wheeler).”
Sheetal recalls how Tushar confided in her when his Handball Coach, Manavpreet Singh Bawa, Coach with the Chandigarh Sports department, began training him with the mainstream players. Sheetal and Manavpreet then deliberated and re-modelled the training, including few more Special Athletes, making a module specifically for them.
Back to this event, Tushar engaged closely with his elder brother who helped him with the practises, keeping track of the counts and the specified distance. The impact of the event has been that Tushar, even today, practises all the four skills; he enjoys and feels confident as he does it.
Born with a hole in his heart, although the condition got treated, it left a learning disability that took his parents from one doctor to another and from one school to another, until they finally reached GRIID. At GRIID he also met his class teacher and anchor, Ms Maneesha Chopra. Tushar waits for events like this one, and feels happy with the spotlight on him. He has always been willing to lead and feels empowered through sporting activities.
While Tushar has a special place for Cricket in his heart, Nitin, who also played this competition quickly reaches out to Sheetal telling her that he is ready for the next event. Nitin participated in Saturday Melodies (a program highlighting the singing talent of the Special Athletes, conducted virtually) last year, and in between his Cricket practises asked Sheetal, “When is the next series of Melodies beginning?” Ready to roll, Sheetal, too, is geared for the next event which is a Virtual Badminton coming up..
“I would first like to thank SO Bharat for taking the initiative to hold a Virtual Cricket Tournament. It sure was a marathon task but most of the States participated, as everyone has been a little low during this pandemic and this activity was a welcome change. Speaking of my state, it sure was a difficult task, as it had never been done before. One didn’t understand the know – how. l give the credit to my coach Sheetal for her enthusiasm. She did a super job in getting a team together, something that is not easy in these trying times. She trained them all and did a fantastic job of it . Tushar and his team mates had a wonderful time and the parents helped them all along . I am very proud of my Athletes and my Coaches. Bless them all”- Ms Neelu Sarin, Area Director, SO Bharat- Chandigarh