Speed and Sound

Female athlete on the track running. Another two female athletes are in the background along with spectators in the seats.

Ecuadorian athlete Jacqueline Gilces starred in one of the most emotional moments of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. Jacqueline came in third in the 400m race, which took every ounce of her strength as she faced steep competition in her race. When the race ended, Jacqueline broke down and cried. She explained the medal she earned was dedicated to her mom and dad, “to all of Ecuador, and God”. But, before she could express her thanks, all she could do was cry—from excitement. From joy. Up until roughly 24 hours earlier, Jacqueline was unable to hear.

Jacqueline lives with a hearing disability. She cannot talk, expressing herself only through hand movements and guttural sounds. The day prior to her last race at World Games, she participated in the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program. This program offers free medical screenings to people with intellectual disabilities, in a variety of different areas. At Healthy Athletes, Jacqueline went through a variety of ear screenings at Healthy Hearing. During the screening, Jacqueline was fitted for a hearing aid.

During her race, Jacqueline not only heard the starting shot to begin the race, she also heard her name, being shouted by friends and family as she crossed the finish line.

Athletes around the world like Jacqueline are not able to compete at their best due to lack of essential health services in their communities. Globally, the amount of ear problems and hearing loss among Special Olympics athletes is greater than that found in the general population. Most athletes’ hearing problems are previously undetected, unserved or under-treated. Special Olympics Health, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, is committed to training health care professionals to screen athletes for health conditions like Jacqueline’s so other athletes can hear the cheers as they compete at their best.