Williams delivers a Special message

Being a Global Messenger for Special Olympics has given Matthew Williams lots of opportunities, including winning medals and rubbing shoulders with the Vancouver Canucks. - Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
Being a Global Messenger for Special Olympics has given Matthew Williams lots of opportunities, including winning medals and rubbing shoulders with the Vancouver Canucks.
— image credit: Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

Up until he was 10 years old, Matthew Williams was like most kids his age: he loved playing sports, especially hockey.

But Williams was forced to make the difficult decision that perhaps it was time to step back and stop playing organized sports.

“It just got to where it was so competitive,” he explained.

“And you are getting to the point where I think it was probably a little too much for me to take in and understand.

“From going to play hockey as a young kid and doing all these sports to doing nothing, that was a really hard hit for me personally; it was a real struggle.”

Williams was born with epilepsy and the early part of his life was marked by seizures. Brain surgery at B.C. Children’s Hospital when he was six years old corrected that problem.

And it was in his first year at Walnut Grove Secondary seven years later when Williams reconnected with sports through Special Olympics B.C.

“My teacher (Sue Kydd) introduced me to it,” he said.

“Floor hockey was my first sport to start off and about a month later, I signed up for five more sports and just got hooked ever since.”

But more importantly, Williams may have found a calling in life.

Williams became involved with the Special Olympics speaker program.

The course really helped him develop his confidence for public speaking.

“Before, I never really was the type to get up and say a few words,” he said.

“They really helped me develop my confidence.”

What became quite clear was the energy and enthusiasm Williams had for the cause, as well as the importance of Special Olympics.

The 20-year-old Williams left last week for South Korea for the Special Olympics World Games, which begin today (Tuesday). Williams is there in his role as a Sargent Shriver Special Olympics International Global Messenger.

There are a dozen Global Messengers, all of whom are appointed by the Special Olympics board of directors.

These messengers undergo training to learn presentation skills to help better spread the Special Olympics message to the general public.

“Matt is very good at representing all of the athletes,” said Lois McNary, the vice-president of sport for Special Olympics BC.

McNary has known Williams since 2004 when he joined the program as an athlete.

“He makes it quite clear that the role he holds is not about him,” she said. “It is all about the athletes in Langley, all the athletes in B.C. and in Canada, when he is out there speaking.

“It is not about him, it is about the organization; I think that is what makes him so well respected and so successful.”

Williams is also the chair of the Global Athlete congress, a position he serves for five years, McNary said.

For Williams, spreading the message is something he gladly does and for him, it is a way to show how much Special Olympics has helped him and others.

“We can really show the impact (of Special Olympics),” he said.

“It is a world-wide movement, not just one country or continent.

“The important thing is to continue spreading the message and show the positive (impact) Special Olympics brings to people with disabilities’ lives.”

Being a Global Messenger has taken Williams many places — Greece, Morocco, Panama, as well as various parts of the United States — and allowed him to meet some people he otherwise may not have, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Warren Buffett.

While he loves his role with Special Olympics, Williams relishes the chance to be on the playing field.

photo courtesy of Special Olympics BC

Matthew Williams (front) has participated in many sports, including speed skating with Special Olympics BC, but the 20-year-old from Walnut Grove has also become a Global Messenger for the organization, travelling around the world to share the message of Special Olympics.

“He takes everything seriously, but his first, most important love, is the sport itself,” McNary said.

“Matt feels very honoured to have these opportunities that he has (but) he is really clear the most important thing for him is his sport and he goes out there and competes to the best of his ability.”

And while he did not qualify to represent Canada at these Games, he will compete this summer as the Township of Langley hosts the B.C. provincial Summer Games in July.

When not busy with his Special Olympics duties, or training for his events, Williams works as a cook at the Walnut Grove Montana’s Cookhouse. He is also studying to become a personal trainer.

“Through Special Olympics and my own personal trainer, just seeing the good she brought out of people and how much you can help them through health and help them achieve their goals, I think that brought me to (the field),” he explained.

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