Matthew Dodds, a Special Olympics Great Britain football player, is not your typical athlete. He is a Special Olympics World Games gold medalist. He competes with unwavering confidence and composure at the international level.
Growing up, he didn’t expect to compete for Great Britain. When he was chosen to represent his country at the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015, he was initially shocked, but once that shock wore off, he was ready to compete. Going into the World Games, Matt was focused on playing his best and winning. He said, “For me as an athlete, I wanted to win. That’s how I am as a person. Go big or go home. So if I want to do something, I do it full on. I’m going to do it the best I can. That’s how the Games were in my eyes.”
Leading up to World Games, he lived up to his word. For a year and a half before the Games, he trained with his local football team twice a week, went to athletics practice once a week, and ran at the gym for an hour every other day. Every three months, he went to a weekend-long national training camp to train with the World Games team. He has a tattoo on his arm that says “Play to win. Refuse to lose”, and throughout his training, he kept that in mind.
Matt focused a lot of his football training on shooting penalties and started practicing as soon as he found out he made the team. According to him, “English footballers are not the best at taking penalties. We end up losing or getting knocked out of competitions because of it.” To prepare for what he thought was inevitable, he practiced as often as he could. Ultimately, this practicing paid off in the gold medal match at the World Games.
Special Olympics Great Britain and Special Olympics Bangladesh were tied 3-3, and it came down to penalty kicks. Matt took the second from last penalty and scored. Another Special Olympics Great Britain footballer scored next and their team won gold!
Even when they were celebrating, Matt remembered how difficult his journey to a gold medal was. Six months before the World Games, his uncle passed away. His uncle was his mentor, his coach, and his best friend. When he lost his uncle, he also lost his motivation to train. After three weeks, a family member reminded Matt of a promise he had made to his uncle. Matt promised to make his uncle proud and win gold no matter what. After winning gold, he cried a little knowing he kept his promise.
Matt was so happy when he returned to Great Britain from the Games. He said, “I probably wore my medal for the first month and a half to two months while I was doing my job.” Matt works as a cleaner for a housing association and has worked there for five years.
He also remembered his uncle’s advice to give something back, so he got into public speaking. He’s given speeches at various local clubs, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, Special Olympics events, and even the House of Lords. He is so proud of what he accomplished, and he wants to encourage others to accomplish their dreams too.