Standing on a silver construction ladder with a red top, Shakir Stapleton is tucked deep inside the ceiling working on the technical aspect of computer systems. To the normal eye, the complicated wiring and electrical work can be described as a foreign language. But for Stapleton, it’s just another day at work, in his element, thriving.
Over the years, he's taken what he’s learned to shape the career he has. During the interview for this story, he beams with a smile at the mention of his employment. Shy, and unsure about opening up, his body language changes, and he starts telling little bits of his story.
It's a moment that’s been years in the making.
On the island paradise of Saint Kitts & Nevis, Stapleton, who is hearing impaired, found early academic success at the Cecele Browne Integrated School in a Special Education Unit. The quiet and reserved child quickly became a standout in academics and sports, finding his niche in tennis and athletics with Special Olympics.
As an exceptional athlete, Stapleton has had several opportunities to represent his country at the highest level, including competing against athletes from around the world in Puerto Rico, Shanghai, China and, most recently, at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. Stapleton has experienced different parts of the world and different cultures firsthand, but says, "it is too hard to pick just one as a favorite."
In order to compete at his highest level, Stapleton knows that he must remain focused on his health and fitness. “I do weekly tennis skill-building exercises, bike riding and cardio sessions,” he says.
His dedication to health and fitness helped propel Stapleton to gold and silver medals in competition, but even as he improved his sports skills while traveling around the world, he was also learning important lessons that would translate off the field of play.
Derek Good, Stapleton’s coach and mentor, shares, “I have seen him mature as an individual, by becoming more outgoing, and as a competitor, by dedicating free time to training and becoming a better tennis player.”
“Sports helped my confidence in the classroom,” says Stapleton, who was among the first batch of students from his school to write the Test of Standards exams. He was the first student who successfully attained an average passing score of 50% and over. In 2016, he graduated as the class valedictorian with the Life Centered Career Education certificate.
Stapleton never forgets where he found his passion for sports and academics. Every Friday morning, he returns to his Alma Mater to teach tennis classes.
Good quickly took notice of the tremendous impact Stapleton has on the students. “Shakir leads by example when teaching and demonstrating to the students. He is focused on the student’s development,” he says. “He interacts with each student and offers them encouragement.”
"I just think it’s important to give back, especially to the Cecele Browne Integrated School and the community," Stapleton says about why he continues to teach the youth. He knows how important developing your passions as a young person is for your future. Developing his passions while still in school helped Stapleton find a career he enjoys immensely.
"I enjoyed playing video and computer games growing up and before I graduated, I had an internship with the Information Technology Department at the Nevis Island Administration. It was a good learning opportunity. I got lots of hands-on experience," he says. During that internship, he formed relationships that helped him secure full-time employment as an IT Technician. For more than seven years, he has assisted with technical support and solving computer and gadget-related problems.
“I enjoy taking something that is not working, fixing it, and making it function again for the customer,” Stapleton says. Sometimes those customers are a little more personal than others. With his experience, he was able to set up his former school’s computer systems with little assistance.
Every day brings something different, as he says, "different government offices will call in with computer issues. Some I have to go out and repair in the field, while others need to come back to the office." He’s quick to express that it is what he loves to do.
His passion and willingness to go above and beyond has earned him recognition from his peers. In 2015 Stapleton received the Ticketeer Award for completing the most tickets for the calendar year.
Giving advice to other Special Olympics athletes who may want to enter the workforce, Stapleton says, "seek out people in the field to learn and gain experience."
Stapleton aspires to continually gain experience in his career journey in order to advance through the ranks to becoming the Supervisor of Technical Services and eventually the Assistant Director IT. Luckily so much of what he’s learned through Special Olympics carries over to the workplace.
“Special Olympics taught me discipline and gave me confidence that I use at work,” he says.
Each day he goes to work, it’s something new. Not knowing what he might be doing keeps him on his toes, ready to tackle the task at hand. But without the lessons taught on the Special Olympics’ field of play, there’s a good chance Stapleton might not have found the confidence he needs to succeed.