Gathered inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games Opening Ceremony, excitement filled the air as each state delegation was announced. It was a moment that stood still in time as athletes were celebrated for their athletic achievements. And still, to this day it's a memory that lives vividly in the mind of Special Olympics Virginia head coach Wilson Chua.
"My favorite moment being involved with Special Olympics was when my son was selected for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games," Chua says, smiling from ear to ear.
Chua thinks back to sitting in the stands at the swimming venue, "Wallace was going to swim in the 50m freestyle and there were three or four other athletes who were very good and in the same heat as my son." As the swimmers one by one finished the race, Chua's son was still working on the second 25 meters. But to his surprise, the fans begin chanting, "Wallace, Wallace, Wallace," as he swam to the finish line.
"It was a very touching moment for me," Chua says. “This is what Special Olympics is all about. These are the moments parents and athletes wait for.”
Chua had been involved with Special Olympics for years before that moment, but seeing his son succeed reminded him why he had such a passion to help others and inspired him to become a coach.
After impacting countless lives within Special Olympics and throughout his community, Chua was nominated for the Special Olympics North America Outstanding Coach award. Humbled by the gesture, he acknowledges that he wouldn't have the success he's had without those that surround him. It's the athletes, parents, and volunteers that make what he does possible. "When I heard that I was going to be nominated, the first thought that came to mind was that there are so many other coaches that have served Special Olympics longer than I have," Chua says, as he asked himself, "why me?" Honored, he says, "I truly appreciate those who nominated me. It's an honor to me and my family."
“Wilson has been a Special Olympics Virginia coach for ten years serving as Head Coach of the Loudoun Dolphins swim team and developing Dolphins Swimming into a year-round program," Rick Jeffrey, President and CEO of Special Olympics Virginia, says about Chua. "Throughout his tenure, he has remained energized and enthused about the Special Olympics movement. He is an ardent, committed supporter of an inclusive society; being not only a Special Olympics Virginia coach and volunteer but a Special Olympics Virginia parent as well."
Having coached several sports, Chua says his favorite is swimming.
"Swimming is near and dear to my heart because I not only view swimming as a sport but also as a life skill," he says. "It can make a difference for a person with a disability if they can hang on for five, ten, even 60 seconds. It can be a difference between life and death."
It is one of the many reasons he decided to make the swim program year-round. "Having the swimming program year-round creates consistency," Chua says, also going into detail about how "it helps with the athlete's endurance. It gives the athletes time to spend together. We swim about 11 months of the year, with the holidays in December and the first part of January off."
"Coach Wilson takes us every year to swim meets at George Mason, Madeira, and Claude Moore and always brings us water and snacks to make sure we are good," Nicole Levinrad, one of Chua's athletes, says. "He pushes us but makes it fun and I am a better swimmer because of him."
When he's not helping athletes with their swimming, he is organizing athletes' participation in the Virginia Wine Country half-marathon, where he has secured spots for athletes to run for free. "It's a great fundraising effort for us and it's a way for the athlete and their family to give back to the Special Olympics community," he says.
Over the years, running in races has become a passion for Chua. It keeps him active, in shape and it sends a positive message to his athletes that if he is doing it, they would want to join. Chua and his son have participated in the 5k at the same event the last three years.
“I was really big on autism because my son is autistic and so I have run five Marine Corps marathons to raise money and awareness for autism research,” Chua says about running. “I even trained Wallace to run two half-marathons side-by-side together.”
“I want the athletes to be in an environment where we laugh, we practice hard, we compete hard, but the ultimate goal is to have fun," Chua says, while speaking on the topic of why he coaches and enjoys it.
Chua's involvement with the Special Olympics community gets more in-depth by the year. In addition to his coaching duties, he is a member of the Special Olympics Virginia council in Loudoun, which helps to raise funds, manage expenses, organize community events, and recruit athletes. He started the role as a medical coordinator sorting out paperwork and as a chair member to focus on events. "In 2019, I transitioned to the treasurer role to help manage the finances and serve as a liaison between the council and coaches," he says.
Chua continues to make a positive influence on the community, and he knows it. While some refer to him as a role model, he doesn't focus on that. Instead, he focuses on providing athletes and their families opportunities to be independent, have a family-like atmosphere and learn life skills while having fun.
Wallace Chua, who turns 25 this year, was the spark that ignited his father’s passion for coaching Special Olympics. But after hearing story after story, it’s clear that even if his son wasn't an athlete, Chua’s passion for coaching and making a difference would have led him to Special Olympics. After all, they are a perfect match for each other.