“Be the best you, you can be” Special Olympics GB Shain Lewis shares his secret to success and why sport and music really are a winning combination
We often talk about the power of sport and the many benefits sport can bring to a person’s life, so who better to demonstrate all that and much more than Special Olympics GB’s very own athlete Shain Lewis.
Shain who comes from mid Wales and is part of Special Olympics Powys, is a huge sports fan. After starting with disability cricket when he was six years old, he joined Special Olympics back in 2009 and he has not stopped playing sport since!
Not only is he an amazing tennis player who won two bronze medals at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Shain is a talented football, basketball and cricket player, who also loves biking, swimming, sailing and kayaking. He’s also recently tried paddle boarding for the first time and only fell in twice! An excellent result and yet another sport Shain is looking forward to participating in moving forward.
And if that isn’t enough to keep someone busy, Shain is also a talented actor and incredible singer who recently sang 100 songs live for six hours on Instagram to raise much needed funds for Special Olympics GB during this year’s Sir Captain Tom’s 100 Challenge. An opportunity Shain grabbed, not only to raise awareness of Special Olympics GB, but also to challenge himself and make people feel happier during lockdown. An amazing achievement which caught the eye of the official Captain Tom Instagram account who joined to watch Shain while he was singing!
He recalls: “Oh gosh, when I saw them come on, I thought ‘do not mess up on this next song!’ But seriously, I was not expecting that at all. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world because I felt really proud of what I was doing, and I felt I was achieving my goal.”
We often talk about the power of sport and its ability to transform lives, Shain who is Autistic feels strongly that his theatrical experience and love of music combined with his sport training and competing has benefited him hugely, especially when it comes to his life in general.
He says: “At primary school I wasn’t very good at talking – which is hard to believe now,” he says laughing. “But when I was younger, I didn’t like talking or making eye contact so the only way I expressed how I was feeling was through a song. I would use music as a way of expressing my feelings.
“You train with singing in the same way you train for sport, so you have to practice it every day. If you don’t practice you won’t be on good form.”
And when it comes to the impact of sport on him as a person and an athlete, Shain is clearly enthusiastic about the benefits of playing tennis and the brilliant coaching he’s received over the years: “The part of Autism which is the most difficult challenge is having to deal with change, and this is why I love tennis, it’s all about constantly challenging change. You can’t always control everything, but the more I understand that the better a player I become, the better I become off the court as well.
“If somebody says, oh, you’ve got to do this today and they hadn’t told me at the start of the day, four or five years ago I would’ve said, ‘that wasn’t part of my routine so I’m not doing that.’ But now I go’ ‘right, so I’ve to change that bit, that’s ok.’ I can deal with that, because I’ve done exercises on the tennis court on having to adapt to different scenarios. But also on the stage, things can go wrong. It was through that way of adapting and changing to make me that bit better, I’m more accepting of change now. The head side of my game has increased so much that now I’m absorbing more information and can understand things better.”
“Anxiety is another symptom of Autism and that has come from me growing up and understanding the world better and not liking a lot of things actually. The biggest struggle is accepting that you can’t control that, and it does scare you. And that is why you get anxiety, because you’re not sure how some people are going to go judge you. Because it’s a hidden disability, they might think I’m being annoying.”
On the contrary, Shain is an amazing person with a wonderful outlook on life who sees disability not in a negative way but, “as an ability.” And he’s determined to raise awareness of intellectual disabilities and change perceptions around hidden disability. As he explains: “That’s one of the things I want to stamp on, invisible disability.”
“Ever since I was diagnosed with Autism, there are pros and cons with it,” he continues. “The pros are that I’ve done Special Olympics and I’ve been able to compete for Great Britain and represent my country in sports I wanted to do. I’ve achieved a lot of goals and made a lot of friends through it. I’ve done a lifetime of experiences in half a lifetime! I couldn’t have dreamed of doing half the things I have done. Had I not had the diagnosis of disability, none of these opportunities might have come across.”
Not only is Shain big hearted and full of empathy, but he also always sees the good and the positive in every situation and person.
As he explains: “Life is like a yoyo. It has its ups and its downs, but the yoyo always finishes up in your hand in a positive way. The negatives are the yoyo going down. Like a virtual yoyo in your mind. You have moments when that yoyo is at the top and it’s the best feeling in the world. And you have moments when you’re down struggling to get the yoyo back up. You can push yourself to the very limits and still manage to get back after it.”
Shain loves coaching and encouraging others to take part in sport while at the same time as challenging disabilities. But for the moment Shain is focused on one thing – to get himself back in the top tennis squad to be able to compete at an international competition.
As he explains: “I’m always a fighter. No matter how far down I go, I still think ‘right, nevermind, next time I’ll get up a bit further. I will work my way back up.’ And that’s what I’m doing at the moment. To get myself back into that top squad one last time. One last international because of my age. I’m right in the peak of where I need to be. I’ve got physical strength and now I have the mental strength too.”
Shain truly is an extraordinary, lovely person who really does live life to the full and after seeing what he has achieved and with such a positive attitude to life, we could all do with being more like Shain!
As Shain says: “Never give up on life. Be the best you can be. Stay positive.”