Change agent

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Na­dine Wil­son-Har­ris Staff Re­porter na­dine.wil­son @glean­erjm.com

SPE­CIAL OLYMPIAN Lucy Meyer knows at first hand that sports can break down bar­ri­ers, and this is the mes­sage she has been shar­ing as she meets with world lead­ers such as United States Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, gov­ern­ment sen­a­tors, school of­fi­cials and, most re­cently, chil­dren in Ja­maica.

The 17-year-old was di­ag­nosed with cere­bral palsy at birth and doc­tors told her par­ents she would never be able to sit up. But the bub­bly 10th-grader has de­fied the odds and has be­come a force to be reck­oned with among her peers, as she com­petes against them in swim­ming, bas­ket­ball and soc­cer.

Her ex­ploits as a Spe­cial Olympics swim­mer and her con­cern for those liv­ing with dis­abil­ity have made her a nat­u­ral ad­vo­cate for spe­cial-needs chil­dren.

Since 2015, she has been serv­ing as the spokesper­son for the part­ner­ship be­tween the Spe­cial Olympics and the United States Fund for UNICEF. Lucy now hopes to help raise US$1 mil­lion over the next two years for projects in Ja­maica, Mex­ico, Peru, Paraguay, and Brazil.

“Be­fore Spe­cial Olympics, it was not fun, be­cause I couldn’t play sports and all my friends had club soc­cer, club vol­ley­ball, club bas­ket­ball, but I couldn’t play be­cause it was all kids with­out dis­abil­i­ties, there was no area for kids with dis­abil­i­ties,” ex­plained Lucy, who started swim­ming at eight years old.

EX­PLORE PO­TEN­TIAL

To­day, it is her hope that chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties are in­volved and not just sit­ting on the side­lines wait­ing to ex­plore their po­ten­tial. The Cal­i­for­nia na­tive be­lieves one of the surest ways for this to hap­pen is for ev­ery­one to em­brace in­clu­sion in sports by en­cour­ag­ing those with dis­abil­i­ties and those with­out to play to­gether.

She has spent the last five days in Ja­maica meet­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, school ad­min­is­tra­tors and chil­dren, in an ef­fort to get them to em­brace this con­cept.

The teenager loves the fact that she is now com­pet­ing with chil­dren with­out dis­abil­i­ties, and although she is still in high school, she is a part of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los Angeles pro­gramme, Lucy hav­ing fun dur­ing a vist to The Gleaner’s North Street of­fice.

which al­lows her to com­pete and play with col­lege stu­dents. Like other ath­letes, she weight-trains and is very con­scious about her diet.

HARD TO FOR­GET

Dur­ing her visit to the is­land, she was given an op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress other stu­dent ath­letes at the Llandilo School of Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tion in Sa­van­nala-Mar, where Spe­cial Olympics Ja­maica staged the Healthy Ath­letes Screen­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, with sup­port from UNICEF. More than 100 ath­letes were screened.

“I love it, it is beau­ti­ful!” she told Gleaner of her Ja­maican ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I am hav­ing so much fun with all the kids and speak­ing and see­ing all the pro­grammes; it is won­der­ful.”

Meet­ing with chil­dren at the schools in Ja­maica The Sun­day has been one of the high­lights of her visit, but hav­ing mem­bers of the Ja­maican Spe­cial Olympics team meet her at the air­port will be hard to for­get.

Spe­cial Olympics Ja­maica reaches more than 4,000 chil­dren and their fam­i­lies through their pro­grammes and ac­tiv­i­ties. In 2015, the Ja­maican team took home 29 medals at the World Sum­mer Spe­cial Olympics Games.

“I wish I could do it again, it was won­der­ful. When I came at the air­port, the kids were wait­ing for me on the out­side and greeted me with wel­come cards and say­ing ev­ery­thing. It was won­der­ful,” she beamed.

STIGMA

Lucy’s mother, Jamie Meyer, feels her daugh­ter’s mes­sage of in­clu­sion and ac­cep­tance is an im­por­tant one, given the stigma ex­pe­ri­enced some­times by chil­dren liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties.

“One of the things we are try­ing to do is just to change the cul­ture,” said Meyer, who is a board mem­ber of the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Re­gional Board of the US Fund for UNICEF.

“That’s what Lucy’s whole mes­sage is, to break the iso­la­tion, break the seg­re­ga­tion that is oc­cur­ring, and we want ev­ery­body to get to­gether.”

Based on what she has gleaned dur­ing her stay in Ja­maica, Lucy hopes more in­vest­ments can be made in trans­porta­tion for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties, but more im­por­tant, she wants more spon­sor­ship and ex­po­sure for ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing spe­cial-needs chil­dren.

“There are, some­times in some ar­eas, a stigma at­tached to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and we want to change it, and one way we want to change it is through ex­po­sure,” the bright young lady shared. Amer­i­can Spe­cial Olympian Lucy Meyer.

Amer­i­can teen Spe­cial Olympian vis­its Ja­maica on a mis­sion to break down bar­ri­ers

JER­MAINE BARN­ABY PHO­TOS

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