By Tessa Sechler
Consistency. Dedication. Growth. Those are just a few words to describe Bill Fields career with Special Olympics, which he has been involved with for nearly 50 years.
Fields first started with Special Olympics New Jersey in 1972, and 14 years later he joined Special Olympics California, before the division of Northern and Southern organizations. Throughout his time with Special Olympics he worked his way up to become the Assistant Vice President of area regional sports, and most recently the Assistant Vice President of Sports Partnerships.
In addition to a local standpoint, Fields also has attended 12 of the World Games competitions, traveling as far as Athens, Greece and Shanghai, China. Now, he finds himself in Abu Dhabi this week for the 2019 event.
For Fields, the benefits of Special Olympics and its vision to promote acceptance, inclusion, and well-being for its athletes through sport shine clearly in the World Games. He says the comradery between both the athletes and coaches from different countries is something he looks forward to most when he attends a new World Games, and reiterates how impactful the experience is for the athletes.
“No athlete gets to go twice,” Fields said, “so therefore it’s a once in a lifetime deal.
“It changes the athlete’s perspective on life itself.”
While he has witnessed firsthand what that change looks like many times, and with countless athletes, Fields reflects on an athlete who was generally non-verbal before her trip to Athens, Greece for the World Games in 2011. According to Fields, she transformed completely during her time at the competition.
“Her body chemistry changed so much in Athens that she came in first place, and you could not stop her from talking,” Fields said.
Other benefits of the World Games for the athletes are services such as Healthy Athletes, which provides them with check-ups and services that may have previously been unavailable. In Anchorage, Alaska, Fields went with an athlete to get fitted for glasses, after which she broke down crying. Fields remembers her turning to look at him and saying, “Bill, I can see all the way down the street.” These moments are what make the World Games and Special Olympics so memorable for him.
The World Games also helps promote inclusion in a way that is very unique to sport itself. No matter where the Games has taken place, Fields says there is always a history of inclusion left behind. For Special Olympics athletes and coaches, this can be seen even before they embark on their journey to the World Games host city.
“Watching them come together as a team from different states that haven’t met each other before and gel for one common cause or competition, that’s pretty cool,” Fields said.
The atmosphere of inclusivity is ever present within other countries, which leaves Fields hopeful for its continued growth in the years to come. He recalls that even though host countries are not always in good graces with each other when the World Games takes place, those differences are set aside.
“The highest pinnacle of inclusion is watching a country lay down their differences to support Special Olympics World Games,” Fields said.
Fields will no doubt return from Abu Dhabi with more amazing stories and memories to cherish. From the personal growth of athletes, to the quality of treatment they receive through services like Healthy Athletes, and the ongoing spread of inclusion and acceptance around the world, Special Olympics World Games continues to do its part in making this world a better place for people with intellectual disabilities.