Before you get to know Michael Detouche, a Special Olympics Dominica athlete from the Caribbean, you should know a few things. Every weekend, he fishes. With a big smile lighting up his face, Detouche goes into detail about what fishing means to him. It's his time of the week to be alone, enjoying what the ocean has to offer and it helps him gain the confidence to be successful in Special Olympics.
For the time being, he sticks to fishing on the rocks, but soon hopes, he says, "to be on a boat so I can catch the bigger fish." The calmness from fishing helped him grow into the athlete he is today.
"He is very skillful, every Sunday when I go downtown, he is on the rocks fishing,” Ainsworth Irish, Detouche’s coach and mentor, says. "Michael used to be shy but he's done a great job growing as an athlete. It’s very important that he's been with Special Olympics Dominica since the inception in 1988."
"It means a lot to me being one of the first (athletes) because I enjoy it. Special Olympics gives me a chance to meet new athletes," Detouche says.
Having participated in long-distance running, Detouche now has made the transition to bocce due to his age but is still adamant that his favorite is athletics. "Right now, as I'm getting older, I do sports like bocce and standing long jump and football (soccer)," he says.
Each year he attends his homeland's National Games. And he's never missed a competition. "I love to play sports," he says on why he’s never missed a competition. "It inspires me, and it inspires other people. I love to inspire other people so they can try it and encourage people to join the movement is so important.”
In 2004, Detouche attended the Special Olympics Caribbean Games in Jamaica, winning silver medals in the 500m and the 1000m races, along with racing in a relay.
"It was a good experience for me, and I enjoyed it," he says talking about what the Caribbean Games were like, but it was just the start of traveling for Special Olympics. Detouche has attended multiple Special Olympics World Games. "It was a cool experience traveling to Connecticut and Los Angeles," he says.
In June 2022, Detouche will make a return trip to the United States, this time to compete in bocce at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando and he’s already got his eyes on the prize, despite obstacles out of his control.
"Due to COVID-19, our government suspended all Special Olympics activities until October 3," Irish says. "So, the second week of October we started training. We'll do training for five weeks, with practices every Saturday."
During a typical practice, standing in a 12x16-foot court, Detouche and his teammates practice mastering a soft touch in order to get their ball the closest to the pallina (small white ball).
For what it’s worth, Detouche knows he has the experience and skill. And in Orlando, he’ll be mentally prepared, jokingly saying, “I’ve been there, done that.” Despite the competitive edge Detouche brings to the USA Games, he says he’s excited “to meet new friends and to demonstrate courage and joy.”
As a very decorated athlete, that attitude may not have been possible without the example set by his coach and mentor, Irish. "He's the bocce coach and I absolutely love what he's done for me, and it has helped me a lot," Detouche says about Irish’s impact on his journey.
As an athlete, you must be coachable. It's the trait that allows you to find much success. "His biggest strength as an athlete is the ability to adapt," Irish says. "We have a small athlete base with only about 15 athletes and Michael leads from the front.”
Detouche’s leadership is a source of pride for his coach, fellow teammates, and the entire community. For five years, Detouche has served as the athlete representative on the executive board for Special Olympics Dominica. "When Michael speaks, everyone listens. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience; he has the ability," Irish says.
Sitting in the corner of the room during the interview was another athlete, brand new to the movement. While it may not have been his turn to do an interview, it was clear he was absorbing every word. It was a moment the older generation collides with the new generation, and they learn together how to make an impact throughout the community.
The qualities that make Detouche such a successful fisherman are the very qualities that make him such an exceptional athlete and leader. The quiet confidence he’s built since starting as a shy young boy have helped him find success within Special Olympics, at home, in international competitions and, hopefully, at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.