Meadowdale High School graduate Julio Abad has had a whirlwind few months, as his soccer playing has seen him earn a spot with the Long Island University men’s soccer team, travel to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to participate in the 2019 Special Olympics World Games, then get a chance to spend the summer training with the Seattle Sounders FC under-23 team.
But Abad’s most powerful experiences came at the Special Olympics World Games, where he had what he described as two “call to action” moments. The stories were too lengthy for the feature story on Abad that appeared in Tuesday’s paper, but were too good not to share. Here they are in Abad’s own words:
A recognition of privilege
“They had this program called Healthy Athletes, so you would go through these different stations, like how to live a healthy lifestyle or how to eat healthy and have a proper diet. We showed up late one day so we only did one station. As you did the stations you got a sticker, and if you got four stickers you got a free pair of shoes.
“Because we showed up late we weren’t able to get the free pair of shoes. At the end of the day when we had to leave we decided to look at the shoes to see what they looked like and decide whether to come back the next day to finish. We looked and the shoes were bright red with a bluish design on them, and I don’t want to sound bad, but they weren’t necessarily shoes you’d want to wear every day. We said, ‘Forget it, we don’t really need shoes, let’s head out,’ and we didn’t come back to get the shoes.
“Later at closing ceremonies they did a video montage of all the different sports, and we were sitting there watching when all of a sudden they’re showing kids running on the track and I notice that three or four of the athletes are competing with the shoes from the Healthy Athletes segment because those were the best shoes they had. These kids were probably thrilled beyond belief to get these amazing pairs of shoes and be able to compete and perform their best in these pairs of shoes, and I just turned them down. That made me feel bad.
“We’re so privileged in the United States, other people don’t have the things we’re able to have. It made me really appreciate stuff like that and want to help out people in different countries, or even those in our own country.”
Witnessing a life-changing moment
“This was also tied to the Healthy Athletes thing. It’s really a great program Special Olympics puts on. I believe it was a soccer player from Kenya — he wasn’t an 11-a-side player so I didn’t get to meet him. But he was deaf, and he came to the World Games having been deaf his entire life.
“His team decided to do Healthy Athletes and they took him to a hearing screening. When they took him in for the screening, they told him, ‘You’re not actually deaf. You have very troubled hearing, but we think if we set you up with the right hearing aids, we think you might actually be able to hear.’ They were able to set him up with the right hearing aids right there in the Healthy Athletes area where he was able to hear for the first time in his life.
“This all came from the Healthy Athletes program. If this kid had the proper technological advancements where he lives, he would have been able to hear from a young age. But because he lived in an area that didn’t have the technology or the proper medical care, he’d gone deaf for the majority of his life. But because of this amazing Special Olympics program he was able to hear for the first time in his life.
“Competing in the games and competing for the USA was amazing, but those are the stories I’ll never forget.”