World Games Updates
Puerto Rico Competes in its First Winter Games (Thanks to a Resourceful Coach)
Thanks to coach Victor Bonilla, Special Olympics Puerto Rico athletes, who have never before competed in a Special Olympics World Winter Games, will finally get their chance in 2009.
Last year, Special Olympics Puerto Rico asked its coaches if any of them would be interested in introducing a new winter sport – floor hockey (the only other winter sport the Program offered was snowshoeing). The fledgling teams would face off in competition at a national qualification tournament, and the winning team would be eligible to represent their country for the first time at a World Winter Games. Bonilla was the first coach to respond, eager to build a new sport and a new team from scratch.
He did his homework, tenaciously researching every aspect of the sport. Equipment was the next challenge. Because floor hockey was nonexistent in Puerto Rico, Bonilla had to make his own equipment. The resourceful coach cleverly repurposed PVC electrical tubes to make hockey sticks and the framework for the goal posts. He used old safety barriers from construction sites for the “net.”
The young team practiced three times a week for two-hour stretches at a time, and won the gold medal at the country’s qualifying tournament. Now, they’re at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games with a new challenge and a dream – to win a gold medal. But first they have to get used to the cold weather. “It was shock to them,” said Bonilla. “The coldest it’s ever been in Puerto Rico is 69 degrees F.”
Bonilla, an adaptive physical education teacher in Caguas, reveals that coaching Special Olympics athletes has increased his love and enjoyment of teaching and training special needs students. One of his most memorable athletes is Christian Colón, 18, who had serious challenges with adaptation – he was antisocial and instigated fights – but now he’s a star player. “Since he joined Special Olympics his attitude is 100 percent positive. Sports has been such a motivator for him. He trained and practiced very hard so that he’d get the chance to compete at the 2009 World Games,” said Bonilla.
Colón lives with his mother and grandmother. And although he has always had a close bond with his grandmother, he hasn’t had the same relationship with his mother. Bonilla said he never saw Colón’s mother, Raquel, for the first two years her son was a student. When he signed up for Special Olympics, his mother noticed the positive changes in her son, and she began to attend practices and competitions. “The mother-son relationship has just blossomed,” said Bonilla. Raquel has even come to Boise to watch her son compete. “She’s so proud of him,” said Bonilla.
Bonilla shared an e-mail Raquel recently sent him, which read: “Thank you to you and your companions for the work you are doing with our special kids. God give you health and blessings so you can continue giving your love and time for our special kids. May God keep you safe always.”
The 2009 World Games hockey team players from Puerto Rico are considered heroes at their school. Bonilla said he won’t have trouble recruiting new players any time soon.