Nearly 7,000 athletes from around the world came to compete in the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi this year. Starkey and Starkey Hearing Foundation were once again on hand to participate in the Healthy Athletes Program.
Our more than 40 volunteers fit more than 250 athletes from 67 countries with hearing aids. The theme of this year’s games was “Meet the Determined,” and I can tell you, the determination of these athletes is awe-inspiring. Tani and I were honored to walk with the delegation from Peru in the Opening Ceremony. We watched the faces of these athletes light up as they entered the Zayad Sports City Stadium filled with 55,000 people celebrating the beauty of different abilities and capabilities. Every human matters and has a purpose.
Unfortunately, in many cases, these athletes can’t communicate effectively about their health. They don’t have the same access to healthcare, and often, hearing health goes overlooked. That is where we come in. After a free screening by the Healthy Athletes program, those eligible for hearing aids are sent to us, and lives are forever changed.
One of the most touching moments for all of us came when 31-year-old Mame Mdiaye came to us. The soccer player from Senegal had been deaf his entire life. He communicated with teammates and coaches through sign language. It was one of his coaches who brought Mame to have his hearing tested. When they learned Mame could benefit from hearing aids, they were apprehensive. That was until Tani started fitting Mame. He heard the world around him for the very first time. His coach immediately started crying, overwhelmed with emotion. Mame’s teammates huddled around him, hugging, laughing and crying. ESPN happened to be there for this very special moment. One of Mame’s teammates said no matter how they did in the Games, they had already won.
Mame and his team did win again… and again. In fact, they made it to the championship game and took home the silver medal. This is just one of the many inspiring stories we were lucky to be a part of at the Special Olympics. It’s these moments that fuel my passion for giving back, for helping people to hear and connect to the world around them. I don’t consider my day job work, because what I do is so fulfilling.
Giving the gift of hearing shows someone they are cared for. Caring gives people hope. Our work is changing the world. Days like this reinforce what I already know; you find your humanity in what you give to humanity.