THE Zimbabwe Special Olympics golf team got a surprise visit from President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the Yas Links Golf Club in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
President Mnangagwa broke away from his official visit to the United Arab Emirates to wish his compatriots well ahead of the start of the golf competition.
National director of Special Olympics Zimbabwe, Viola Musariri, couldn’t hide her excitement at having Zimbabwe’s first citizen call on some of her athletes.
“The boys were so excited about the scarf and were talking about wanting to touch it,” she said animatedly.
Some of the seven golfers were a little shy speaking to their president, but Munyaradzi Musariri spoke confidently about winning gold medals again.
The 24-year-old, who plays off a 10 and is aiming to reach a single-figure handicap, is the son of the national director and is a gold medallist from the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles, USA.
But while that achievement saw him recognised with a free membership at the Royal Harare Golf Club, his success has not come easily.
Munyaradzi is the oldest of four sons, and being largely quiet and reserved while growing up, generally struggled to fit in.
It was only at Prince Edward High School, where three-time major winner Nick Price was educated, that Munyaradzi was introduced to golf through the special class of his Harare-based school.
“It was like golf was made for Munya; golf fitted with his character. He can be alone, take his clubs, go to the driving range and just hit balls,” said Musariri of her son.
Zimbabwe’s 2016 Sportsman of the Year with a Disability has previously played in UAE, participating in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Pro-Am, where he gained invaluable tips from 2014 Championship winner, Spain’s Pablo Larazzabal.
But Munyaradzi is still looking forward to the new experiences, new friends and new challenges of the 2019 World Games.
Musariri has seen the life-changing impact of Special Olympics outside of her home too. Only three athletes had been beyond Zimbabwe’s borders prior to this event.
“Thirteen of our athletes have never been on a plane or stayed in a hotel before and I can see the transformation, the confidence, in all of them, interacting with people from different cultures and different parts of the world,” Musariri declared.
Success for athletes can create awareness, change perceptions and subsequently benefit their families and societies, as in the case of Takudzwa Matonhodze, who has had a significant impact for people with intellectual disability in his community.
The 16-year-old is from St Mary’s in Chitungwiza, a very densely populated area, where he has inspired a shift in mindset in families who have children with intellectual disability.
“Six different families have signed up their children for Special Olympics golf all because their community member Takudzwa made the team coming to UAE,” outlined Musariri.
While the athletes continue to encourage tolerance and inclusion, the national director confirms raising funds and putting a team together is always a struggle.
There is an additional concern that more is being done for people with physical disability than for people with intellectual disability in Zimbabwe.
Musariri, though, remains positive about the future for Special Olympics, especially after President Mnangagwa’s visit.
“It’s good the President is asking now, it’s the beginning of new things and we look forward to support from government… I’m hoping this opens discourse with government on improving conditions for people with intellectual disability.”
Special Olympics Zimbabwe won 11 medals, including five gold in Los Angeles 2015 and are hopeful their 16 athletes can improve on that count in Abu Dhabi 2019.