My name is Jianyu, and I’m a 16-year-old student at the Puyang Special Education School in Henan, China. I’m also a Special Olympics Athlete Leader.
When I was three years old, I couldn't walk. But after starting school, with the guidance of my teachers, I began to train in sports. At home, my dad provided me with equipment such as dumbbells and barbells, and with my parents' support, I continued to train. Gradually, my body became healthier and stronger. With a healthy body, it was through my involvement with Special Olympics that my dreams took flight.
Three years ago, with the encouragement of my teacher, I participated in a National Special Olympics Day activity at my school. I competed in the standing long jump and 100-meter dash individual event. This was my first experience with Special Olympics, and I was interested in doing more. Last year, my school and another school, Kunwu Primary School, held a Unified Schools event. This was my first time participating in a Unified activity, and I was chosen to represent our school as a Special Olympics athlete and deliver a speech on stage. With the help of my teacher, I rehearsed repeatedly and successfully delivered my first-ever public speech.
During this Unified event, I met my Unified partner Xiaotian, who is 15 years old. He warmly addressed me as “brother.” We completed four Unified activities, including a 30-meter shuttle run, a freestyle basketball shooting competition, a basketball dribbling relay, and a stepping-stone crossing. We had a great time and made plans to participate in more Unified events in the future.
A few months later, Xiaotian, my teacher, and I registered for the Special Olympics East Asia Youth Leadership Summit. For four evenings, Xiaotian and I attended the summit’s virtual conference in my teacher’s office, where Xiaotian helped me understand the content and interact with everyone on the message board. I learned about numerous inclusive activities and competitions that take place around the world every day. It was the first time I was exposed to the concept of Unified Leadership, which brings people with and without intellectual disabilities together to spread awareness about the power of inclusion in their communities. This summit not only broadened my horizons but also made me realize my potential as a Special Olympics Athlete Leader. I was inspired to expand my network to achieve great things.
I had an idea to organize a Unified activity beyond sports. My Unified partner Xiaotian and I wanted to hold an inclusive painting activity. With the support of my art teachers and principal, Xiaotian and I decided on our project. It would be students from both of our schools coming together to create a water extension painting on a large scroll canvas. With help from my teacher, I applied for a Youth Innovation Project from Special Olympics to pay for the materials for the activity. We were so happy when my application was accepted!
On the day of the activity, students with and without intellectual disabilities gathered in my school’s art center. I explained to everyone the purpose of the Special Olympics Youth Innovation Project and the significance of the Unified art activity. My goal was to create an inclusive environment where individuals of all abilities could experience the joy of painting and appreciate the beauty of inclusion, while also increasing awareness and understanding of individuals with intellectual disabilities. With the cooperation of the school, Unified partners, teachers, classmates, volunteers, and parents, we successfully completed the activity.
After the event, many parents asked us about the next scheduled inclusive activity, hoping that their children who missed out on this occasion would have the chance to participate in the next one.
My Unified partner Xiaotian spoke to my teacher about the experience, saying, "I used to be unfamiliar with and even resistant to people with intellectual disabilities. However, after participating in Special Olympics Unified activities and pairing [with Jianyu], I realized that students with intellectual disabilities are no different from anyone else in our surroundings. They have their own aspirations and crave acknowledgement and respect, and they also possess leadership and charisma. Jianyu, who is even braver and more self-confident than I am, has transformed my narrow-mindedness and motivated me. I plan to stay involved in Special Olympics Unified activities in the future."
I’m happy that my successful project has planted the seed of inclusion in the hearts of people in my community. I felt so proud when I saw the smiles on the faces of everyone who participated.
In the future, my school plans to continue to work with Kunwu Primary School and other schools to organize Special Olympics events. This means my classmates and I will have more opportunities to participate in Unified activities and meet more Unified partners. I am grateful to Special Olympics for allowing me to discover a better version of myself, and I am determined to grow into an even more outstanding person!