Local Special Olympian to give disability awareness keynote tonight Fredericksburg Today
Local Special Olympian to give disability awareness keynote tonight
Special Olympian Matthew Doyle found a few minutes yesterday to FaceTime his friend Erin Malkiewicz. He wanted her feedback on the Disability Awareness Month keynote address he’ll deliver to the University of Mary Washington community. The talk, scheduled for today at 5 p.m. on Zoom, is open to the public.
“If it wasn’t through Zoom, I think he’d get a standing ovation,” said Malkiewicz, a first-year student who’s paired with Doyle in UMW’s Best Buddies chapter.
During the address, presented by the James Farmer Multicultural Center, Doyle, who has Down Syndrome, will discuss his involvement with organizations like Special Olympics and Best Buddies, and reflect on life in general.
He’s been a few places. Just look at his pictures on Facebook, where he’s dressed in a wetsuit for the Polar Plunge, at fundraisers with friends and getting kissed on the cheek on the beach. He’s living the life. And he has a voice. And he wants the millions of Americans with disabilities – and everyone else – to hear it.
“I hope audiences take away from Matthew’s speech that disability is a part of everyday life. All spaces need to be inclusive,” said UMW junior Lueden Sheikhnureldin, who sought him out for the keynote after hearing his message her freshman year. “This goes beyond ramps and captioning videos, but attitudes and behaviors too. Listen to disabled people and include them in spaces that are not just related to disability.”
Doyle, 30, was born the same year as the Americans With Disabilities Act. A graduate of Stafford County’s Mountain View High School, he participates in basketball, bowling, gymnastics, soccer, swimming, taekwondo, tennis and track with the Special Olympics. He’s taken the gold in several events, including golf at the state competition last fall, and he was named Virginia’s Special Olympics athlete of the year in 2013.
A global messenger for the group since 2007, his speeches are based on his motto, “Opening hearts, changing minds.” And Doyle’s words resonate, drawing lines of people seeking his autograph and earning him invitations to present at venues like the Special Olympics opening ceremonies and the Miss Virginia USA pageant.
“I keep positive,” said Doyle, who insists he doesn’t get nervous no matter how large the crowd. “I keep my smiling face, and I rehearse my speeches all the time.”
The family – his dad’s an area Special Olympics coordinator – travels hundreds of miles a year to functions and fundraisers, like one of Doyle’s favorites, the Polar Plunge. With sports sessions on hold due to COVID-19, he’s been hitting the treadmill to stay in shape, and rather than in-person events like Bingo and karaoke, he attends yoga and Zumba on Zoom.
Activities with Best Buddies – an international group that helps people with disabilities form meaningful peer relationships – have gone virtual, too. Doyle, who’s been with the Mary Washington chapter since 2015, met new buddy, Malkiewicz, at a recent online match-up party, and they talk on the phone all the time.
“I just want to know if he’s having a good day,” Malkiewicz said. “I want him to know he has someone in his corner.”
She’ll be there for him today, as well, for his talk at UMW, where Doyle has attended Special Olympics sports clinics and events, like the one where he met NFL cornerback Darrell Green and got to try on his Hall of Fame ring.
“People with Down Syndrome and people with disabilities have a voice and they have a vision,” Doyle said. “I have a vision to speak. We want to teach the world about people with disabilities and that they’ve got a voice out there.”
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