For many of the athletes competing in the Special Olympics World Games, this was their first time not only visiting Los Angeles, but the United States. This was no exception for 17-year-old Austin Green, who not only just graduated from high school in the Bahamas, but also competed in the Special Olympics World Games for the first time ever playing bocce.
“I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was inside the show,” Green said about the Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony.
With hundreds of fans and supporters cheering him on as he strode into the stadium with his teammates, the Opening Ceremonies was just the start of his week-long adventure in Los Angeles as the World Games got underway.
“This is a treat for him, and to see him excel to the level that he is, is an amazing upgrade in life for him,” Special Olympics Bahamas bocce coach Carleza Bain-Johnson said.
Johnson has known Green for ten years now, out of her fifteen years involved with Special Olympics.
“Austin is a very bubbly person. He’s easy to make conversation with, he’s easy to make friends, so you learn all of this. If he could do it, I could do it,” Johnson said.
Johnson started as a bus chaperone on the island Grand Bahama, and now coaches bocce along with other sports.
While bocce is the third most participated sport in the world after soccer and golf, it is less well-known here in the states. However, what bocce may lack in popularity, Johnson says the sport gives back so much to the athletes who play it.
“To the ordinary person it just seems as if it’s just a slow game until they really get into it, but to the Special athlete, to see them compete and [see] it’s a challenging game that they could actually win the game and get their balls closer to the pallino is really awesome. They get to work their strategies and different moves in order to win the game,” Johnson said.
Green said that although bocce can be a difficult sport, with practice one can master it. Green practiced throughout the year on Saturdays and a few days after school throughout the week, along with being involved in tennis, basketball, and swimming.
Green’s tips for someone who is new to the sport of bocce: “Only thing you can do: have faith and believe you can.”
Green had full confidence in himself as he embraced his high school’s theme of, “Yes I can!” to compete in his first bocce competition on July 27. Green played with focus and precision, and he lost to his competitor by just one point.
Green came out placing 5th overall in the male singles division, and his teammate Royal Hamilton earned a silver medal for his performance in his division as well.
Bocce has allowed Green to make new friends, and after his competition he could be seen chatting with his teammates with the Bahamas flag wrapped around his shoulders.
“It was fun, I couldn’t believe it, but I’d like to come again to the next World Games,” Green said.
The next time we see Green at the Special Olympics World Games it may not be for bocce though as he told his coach just the other day that he’s interested in starting weightlifting as well.