Matthew Watkins connection with Special Olympics Southern California is much bigger than training and competing in sports. Special Olympics helped him build his confidence and be true to himself.
Matthew came out as a transgender man to his family when he was 18 and to his Special Olympics teammates and coaches when he was 20. What were very scary and nerve-wracking moments for him ended up providing him with clarity.
“A lot of my teammates and coaches are really understanding about what it’s like to be a transgender man and a part of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Matthew. They instantly stood beside him and accepted his preferred name and helped him affirm his gender. Matthew says they created a space where he wasn’t judged and could be himself.
As Matthew was working on his physical health and becoming a stronger athlete, his mental health also improved from being able to make friends and participate in sports without bullying and harassment. Since he was young, sports has been a passion of Matthew’s, and they helped him realize that living with intellectual disability does not define him. It’s only another hurdle to overcome.
Since 2002, Matthew has excelled as a Special Olympics athlete. He’s competed in floor hockey, volleyball, and swimming, and he most recently completed the nutrition and wellness course Team Wellness. He’s won over 50 medals, and the two he’ll never forget are the gold and silver medals in snowboarding at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho. Matthew also won the Special Olympics Southern California Athlete of the Year for the Santa Clarita & Tri-Valley communities in 2015 and the Richard L. Van Kirk Outstanding Outreach Achievement Award.
When he is not competing, he enjoys working at Valencia Ice Station, spending time with his two cats, writing poetry, and dining on his favorite food: enchiladas.
Matthew understands that people are still learning about the LGBTQ+ community and appreciates the time and effort his family and teammates have put into accepting him. His advice to everyone is to “be yourself, have fun, and participate to the best of your ability.”