Recently, I happened to chance upon a social media post by Samantha Low, who is a volunteer under the Special Olympics Singapore Athletics Outreach Sports Programme.
It piqued my curiosity and I managed to sit her down to find out more about this very meaningful voluntary work of hers.
Samantha Low (right) and Gaayatri Ramakrishnan, a Special Olympics athlete. Photo: Samantha Low
When asked how she learnt about the programme and became a part of it, she shared: “My husband introduced it to me! My husband’s friend, a regular volunteer in the running group, invited him to join in for a couple of sessions. After a couple of weeks, I decided to join them and it has become a weekly affair for the both of us ever since.”
As a volunteer coach, Samantha’s main role is to provide a positive experience for the athletes so that they will stay motivated and continue to come back for training.
Aside from providing encouragement throughout the run, she also needs to ensure the safety of the athlete while pacing them so that they do not suffer burnout or sustain any injuries.
The group has training sessions twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. On Mondays, they usually meet at ActiveSG Bishan Stadium while on Thursdays, the route is usually more challenging as it involves running up and down hills (currently it’s at Fort Canning Park). They also conduct additional training sessions closer to race days to prepare and condition the athletes.
So, why did Samantha decide to volunteer despite her busy work schedule?
“Firstly, being fit and healthy has always been a priority for me. If I am not healthy, I cannot perform or function well to complete daily tasks at home and at work. For that reason, no matter how busy I am, I make it a habit to spend at least one hour a few times a week to exercise,” she said.
Samantha Low (2nd from right) and her husband Jacky (3rd from right) with fellow volunteers. Photo: Samantha Low
She added: “Imagine making an appointment with exercise like how you make time to meet your boss or spend time with your loved ones. Secondly, I wanted to give back to the community. At first, it was a good way to achieve my fitness goals and spend time with my husband while volunteering. However, as time went by training with the same group of coaches and athletes, we grew closer and eventually we became like a family. Sometimes, the coaches will hang out on non-training days for casual runs and makan (meal) sessions.”
Her biggest takeaway from being a volunteer with the programme has been the fact that she has learn to be selfless.
Samantha said: “It is human to put ourselves first in most circumstances. However being surrounded by athletes (who may not have much to offer but yet give their best) and volunteer coaches (who have demonstrated unconditional care and love for each other) has taught me how to be a better person.”
For those of you who are keen to join her as a volunteer for this programme, you do not need to be a fast runner. The programme welcomes everyone, regardless of age and fitness levels, as long as you are committed to weekly training sessions and have a positive attitude.
Samantha and Gaayatri in action during a race. Photo: Samantha Low
Some tips from Samantha if you are considering volunteering for the Special Olympics Singapore Athletics Outreach Sports Programme:
Resilient mind and body
On days when you or the athlete feels tired or giving up, as a coach or pacer, you need to stay strong and motivated as the athlete can feel your energy level.
Good attitude and patience
Managing individuals with special needs can be challenging at times. You may encounter situations that seem small or simple but it causes great stress to them. It is important to take a step back, understand why they are reacting in a certain way and learn how you may assist them.
When you turn up for training sessions regularly, it gives the athlete an opportunity to participate. If we are inconsistent with our attendance or act irresponsibly, it will affect the athlete’s morale and reflect badly on us as role models.
Gaining trust helps to build a good relationship with the athletes. Well, you would not want to run 8km with someone whom you feel uncomfortable with right?
Simply click here if you wish to volunteer with Special Olympics Singapore too!
Gary Yang is a myActiveSG Editor and Presenter. Gary started his career as a suit cum copywriter at an advertising agency, followed by a successful stint in Corporate Communications with Singapore Press Holdings and Asia Pacific Breweries, before eventually joining the editorial team at Sport Singapore. He now turns his attention to fitness and wellness headlines and sniffing out news angles in the sporting arena. Follow Gary on Instagram @thisisgaryyang