“Special Olympics changed my life. As a young boy I was lost, I had nothing to look ahead for. After joining Special Olympics Malta, I learnt to accept myself. I started to understand that not everything is dark but there is a brighter side, too.”
When Gilmour Borg joined Special Olympics Malta seven years ago, he could never have predicted how much his life would change. The 21-year-old athlete was heavily struggling with his mental health when he first joined the Movement.
When he was younger, Borg used to suffer from bullying, which severely wounded him. In the end, he had the last laugh against the bullies. Sports were the starting point for his recovery.
“I would like to raise awareness about bullying and the damage it does. Words can destroy you or build you up. Bullying destroyed me. I even thought about ending it and I don’t think I would have been able to build myself back up if it hadn’t been for Special Olympics. “It’s horrible that a child can have such dark thoughts. At a young age you are supposed to enjoy life, but I wasn’t enjoying mine and I didn’t believe anyone would or could help me.
“After I joined Special Olympics, I finally felt supported and loved. I learnt to trust the people I had around that were pushing me and telling me I could achieve everything I wanted. That was the start of me rebuilding myself.”
He went on explaining first-hand the power sports have for truly transforming lives: “First of all, health is a way of life. I strongly believe that the healthier you live, the happier you live. Health is a lifestyle and sport is very important.
“There are two ways to be an athlete. The first is being in it to be the best, and the second is being in it to have fun, relax, and keep in shape. When you train, it’s just you and you want to give your all.
“Sport is very important because it helps you mentally, not just physically. It helped me through the darkest time. When I joined Special Olympics, I was still feeling like a nobody, and I felt depression; but then I realized sport was helping me. It was clearing my mind. I was able to do sports, I was giving my best and enjoying doing it. I was learning so much and making new friends. I went to training sessions with a smile on my face.”
Borg took to heart the lessons he learnt and became an advocate for inclusion and equity in his role as Athlete Leader and Health Messenger, representing all Special Olympics athletes.
“It’s an honour to be an ambassador. I had never had someone to speak for me and I had no voice until I found Special Olympics. The fact that I can now be that voice for other athletes, it’s amazing.
“Being a voice means being a leader: someone who is helping and is always there. I have a leader myself, Anna [Calleja, Special Olympics Malta National Director] and I look up to her. I try to be and lead like her. She has helped me so much and showed me the way—and that is what I am trying to do for the athletes.
“Special Olympics saved my life and I want to repay them. Nothing is more important to me than representing Special Olympics. I wish everyone understood the difference that Special Olympics is doing in athletes’ lives.
“Some athletes are unable to talk, and Special Olympics is giving them a voice. When we get to be leaders and spokespeople it gives us new life, confidence, empowerment—all things I wish I had found before. I still cannot believe the amount of support that I am getting.”
Last September, Borg was invited to address the audience at the ceremony of the prestigious 2022 Global Golisano Health Leadership Awards in New York City, USA.
“This was very personal and the biggest thing I have ever done. I have competed, won medals, but this was on another level,” he recalled.
“This is acceptance. I was on that stage, and everyone was listening to me and accepting me—I was not being judged or discriminated, they were eagerly listening to me, and they knew I had important things to say. I had a bit of tears in my eyes when I got a standing ovation: I couldn’t believe I was finally spreading my message.”