Stories of Faith, Hope, and Optimism

A human resources practitioner and a teacher, both with intellectual disabilities, share the ups and downs they had to navigate through.

It takes a lot of patience and sacrifice to manifest a dream. In a world that consistently antagonizes persons with disabilities, it becomes all the more daunting to pursue your ambition. 

Brina Kei Maxino and Dacki Sandiego have one thing in common: They chose to overcome the negativity and pushed forward, learning from defeat and criticism to reemerge as victors. Now lauded as successful individuals in their own right, these Special Olympics Pilipinas athlete leaders are changing the way others think about persons with intellectual disabilities.

Get to know their stories and how they managed to succeed in spite of the circumstances.

Limited by society, not disability

Athletes with intellectual disabilities posing after receiving their medals

According to the International Labor Organization, roughly 650 million people around the world have a disability. Out of them, more than 200 million have intellectual disabilities—making up for 1 to 3 percent of the global population. 

One of the most common misconceptions about persons with intellectual disabilities is that they are incapable of maintaining productivity, be it in the form of employment or extracurricular activities. Quite the contrary, a huge cause of their general exclusion from the workforce and other communities is rooted in social stigma and insufficient understanding of how intellectual disabilities actually work. 

At Special Olympics Pilipinas, persons with intellectual disabilities are given a platform to break the longstanding barriers between them and a socially healthy lifestyle. By engaging in competitive sports, athletes with intellectual disabilities learn the value of camaraderie, self-discipline, and perseverance—all while reaping the benefits of physical activity. 

Two athlete leaders in particular have been proving the world wrong. Both with intellectual disabilities, Brina and Dacki are excellent examples of how Special Olympics is able to pave the way for emerging talents—in sports and beyond.

Brina Kei Maxino

Brina Maxino, an athlete with an intellectual disability, shaking hands with Barack Obama

Brina has made quite a name for herself in the several years that she has been actively advocating for representation for persons with intellectual disabilities. Her voice was heard not only in the Philippines, but also worldwide. Today, she serves as one of the only 10 Special Olympics Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers, Class 2019-2023. She was also recognized as a UNESCO Global Champion for Inclusion in Education. 

Born with Down syndrome, her story is a perfect example of transcendence. At 9 days old, a doctor said she was unlikely to survive due to a hole in her heart. At 7 years old, a psychologist believed her IQ was too low for her to be able to finish grade school.

Now at 25, this Filipino achiever proved that neither health concerns nor intellectual disabilities could stop someone as determined as she is. 

Not only did she finish all grade levels in regular schools, but she also graduated as class valedictorian in high school. She also has several academic feathers under her cap including a Bachelor of Arts major in History degree. 

Her appointment as a Special Olympics Global Youth Ambassador for the Asia Pacific Region in 2012 started her journey with Special Olympics Pilipinas, and her advocacy for inclusive education. “When I joined Special Olympics, my world changed, Brina shared in a speech she delivered in 2020. “Special Olympics changed my beliefs, my attitude, and my determination.”

At Special Olympics, she trained in bowling, while also earning the opportunity to develop her public speaking and leadership skills. Traveling to other countries to represent the organization became part of her work. She attended a five-day Leadership Academy in Shanghai, China, was invited to speak at the Seventh Stavros Niarchos Foundation International Conference on Philanthropy held in Athens, Greece, visited the Dominican Republic for the Special Olympics Global Athlete Congress, flew to Singapore twice to attend Regional Conferences, and attended the Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Abu Dhabi, among many others.

“In Special Olympics, my coaches and mentors taught me to focus on my abilities, not my disabilities,” Brina shared in a 2020 speech. 

Aside from her work at Special OIympics, she works full time as an assistant preschool teacher while still wearing many other hats including that of an actress and commercial model. Brina also has an Associate in Arts degree plus a certificate in General Clerical Skills.

She achieved all these and proved her detractors wrong. Although she used to experience bullying because of her intellectual disabilities, she was able to conquer the negativity and achieve more in life. “Every day, people with intellectual disabilities suffer rejection and ridicule because others think we are not good enough,” Brina writes. “They are wrong. We can do more and be more, if only the world gives us a fighting chance.” 

Brina has become an inspiration for everyone because of her passion and story of courage. 

“I am very happy to be a part of Special Olympics, and I am committed to our advocacy of promoting love, acceptance, respect and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities like me,” she added. “I am very grateful to all the people who support Special Olympics as we continue to fight for the rights of exceptionally-talented and differently-abled people all over the world.”

Dacki Sandiego

An athlete with an intellectual disability posing with his basketball

Born Carmelo Sebastian Sandiego, Dacki was first diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at age 3. At 5, he received another diagnosis for Autism. In a personal essay, he shared how a doctor told his parents upon getting his diagnosis that he may never learn to tie his own shoelaces.

This, however, did not become a hindrance to Dacki. “My parents refused to believe the doctor,” he wrote. “They treated me like any other child—not a person with any disability. They encouraged me to chase my dreams, while supporting and loving me unconditionally.”

He adds: “And yes, I have dreams, just like everyone.”

As a teenager, he and his family discovered that what he had was Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning type of Autism. Today, Dacki holds a Culinary Arts degree and is also a licensed visual graphic designer. 

Despite his many qualifications, what he is most passionate about is advocating for inclusive employment for athletes with intellectual disabilities—and he has served as a speaker on related issues. His employment in a global financial company as a human resources professional debunked the notion that people with intellectual disability are non-employable.

On top of this, Dacki is an athlete, and has been with Special Olympics Pilipinas since 2006. A born leader and a true competitive soul, Dacki won gold in his first National Games competition in Pangasinan, landing him a slot to compete in the Shanghai World Games of 2007. This opportunity allowed him to act as team captain, coached by Kaye Samson.

Eventually, he became the 1st Global Youth Ambassador representing Special Olympics Pilipinas to the Boise Winter Games Youth Summit. 

Dacki later dabbled in other sports such as powerlifting, running, fitness and yoga. Aside from sports, he also learned how to drive by himself!

In 2020, he was selected as the co-chair of the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Regional Athlete Input Council—which was the team composed of athlete leaders from different countries, such as New Zealand, Pakistan, India, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines, who represented all athletes under the SOAP region. This role that gave him an opportunity to push for his advocacy, notwithstanding his achievements in the fields of badminton and basketball.

“Special Olympics gave me so much opportunities to discover my talents, develop my leadership skills, and raised my belief and confidence in myself,” Dacki shared about his experience. Now, he is giving back to his own community by volunteering at Special Olympics, the same organization that gave him a venue to thrive. “My desire is to pass on my knowledge and experiences to other athletes and be an advocate for inclusive employment.”

Sharing that his ultimate goal in life is to found his own company that will generate more job opportunities for other people with disabilities, he added: “I firmly believe that the best way to show that we are not limited by our disabilities [is] to lead by example… If you have a dream, don’t be afraid to go for it. Believe in yourself, follow your heart, and shut out the naysayers. Never let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough.” 

Meet the other faces of strength at Special Olympics Pilipinas

Athletes with intellectual disabilities posing together for a photo

The stories of these two Filipinos with intellectual disabilities show that nothing is impossible with determination. While there are hurdles along the way, you will realize that there are people who will help break down barriers. 
Special Olympics Pilipinas is part of a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability. Visit this link to learn more about the work that we do, and how you can take part.

Join us in championing athletes with intellectual disabilities.

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