A welcome fit for heroes was rolled out for Trinidad and Tobago's Special Olympics team returning from the Special Olympics World Winter Games, recently held in South Korea.
The athletes, decked in their red, white and black kits, entered Piarco International Airport's VIP Lounge to the tune of Bunji Garlin's hit song "Differentology", all sporting smiles as they were greeted by family and officials from SOTT (Special Olympics T&T) and the Sport Company of T&T (SPORTT).
The 12-strong team proudly wore their "bling", the bronze medals they picked up in the Division I floor hockey competition, accompanied by head of delegation, SOTT's national director Ferdinand Bibby, coaches, and other delegation members.
Bibby compared the team to "mainstream sporting organisations", boasting that T&T's Special Olympics team had managed big achievements with medals in multiple winter and summer games, many of them among the squad returning from South Korea.
He was also proud that T&T's team also included teenage world medallists in Rishi Ramsumair, 18, and Daniel Ramphal, 15, and was the only Division I team to include female players.
"…Special Olympics Trinidad and Tobago is glad to have provided the opportunity for athletes to represent their countries, their schools, their communities, their families and themselves.
"And we truly believe that sports is the vehicle to empower athletes, persons with intellectual difficulties by teaching them the right principles of sports."
Coach Clayton Williams lauded the athletes for their "gallant" efforts even with a number of shortcomings, including a lack of match practice and opponents to train against in the lead up to the Games. Making it to Division I, he said, was also a "big accomplishment".
Said Williams: "The athletes started slowly because most of them didn't have that international experience, but as we played, the team gelled a little more, and we got what we wanted. The results wasn't as favourable as we would like it to be. Nevertheless, the athletes (literally) fought gallantly."
Asked to say a few words about their experiences at the Games, two athletes were pleased at their achievement.
Team captain Learrie Buchan said it had been a tough competition.
"We had four teams in our category," he said. "Out of the four, we come home with a bronze medal. We had to fight Jamaica, and Hungary, and they're top teams. But through it we fight, and we bring home a bronze medal."
And Gaitrie Rampersad said that their matches were challenging, but the team were "strong".
"Some of us played with injuries like myself, Sheldon (Prince), Michael (Johnson) and Carlos our goalkeeper, and Learrie. I think all of us had a very wonderful time, and we displayed Trinidad and Tobago as proudly as we can."
Next up for the athletes will be preparing for SOTT's National Games at the end of April, when over 800 athletes are expected to compete in eight sporting disciplines, while there is also a local floor hockey tournament scheduled for November.
T&T Special Olympics squad:
Waylon Thornhill, Michael Johnson, Carlos King, Devan Mahadeo, Rishi Ramsumair, Danial Ramphal, Nikki Jangeesingh, Gaitrie Rampersad, Sheldon Prince, Learrie Buchan, Marlon Worrel and Sherwin Perryman.