Our friends at Kia Canada are proud to support Special Olympics Canada in a number of ways, including an athlete-of-the-month spotlight recognizing Special Olympics athletes and volunteers from across the country to celebrate their achievements and contributions to the community. We’ve followed suit and are spotlighting is on Matthew Williams, who has been a Special Olympics athlete for about 15 years, participating in basketball and speedskating —read about his inspiring story below, and read more about Kia's incredible support of Special Olympics Canada here. —Vita Daily
Matthew, who has epilepsy and an intellectual disability, started playing ice hockey in youth sports programs. As he got older, he could no longer keep up with the other kids.
“People weren’t as patient with me and didn’t understand why I would have challenges in figuring out the drills,” he says, adding that he decided to leave sports behind when he was 12-years-old.
Struggling to find his place and make friends, he started high school feeling alone and isolated. A teacher recommended Special Olympics BC. He immediately signed up for floor hockey.
“I fell in love with it and have been in love ever since,” says Matthew. “Special Olympics really changed the perspective of how I look at myself and really opened up a social opportunity.”
His interest in Special Olympics goes beyond sport. From 2010 to 2014, Matthew acted as a Special Olympics International (SOI) Global Athlete Messenger, speaking about the movement at events around the world. From 2010 to 2018, he not only served as a SOI Board Member, speaking on behalf of athletes at important meetings, but also as Chair of the Global Athletes Congress, which brings together athletes from around the world to develop leadership skills. If that wasn’t enough, in 2015 he also gave an inspiring TED Talk on Special Olympics and how sport has the power to change lives.
Through Special Olympics, Matthew says, “I was able to accept who I was and accept my disability and be around people who accepted me. Special Olympics has done so much for my life, I felt ... being a public speaker would give me the opportunity to hopefully give back to the organization.”
According to Matthew’s high-school sweetheart and wife Crystal, Special Olympics brought him out of his shell.
“When I first met him in grade eight, he was very shy, quiet,” says Crystal, who was in the same special education class as him. “I had my girlfriends that had stuck with me since elementary; for Matthew, unfortunately he didn’t have friends like I did. [Special Olympics] has been a tremendous thing for him. Matthew loves doing speeches ... it’s what he was born to do. Being able to see Matthew succeed, it makes me want to try even harder to get myself out there and try and be an advocate like him.”
“This movement has changed my life and those of so many others and it has changed the way the world sees people with disabilities,” Matthew says. "When people listen to individuals with intellectual disabilities, we’re really able to change their minds and perceptions of what we’re capable of told the crowd. Come join us someday at Special Olympics, see if you walk away with your heart unchanged.”