Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lorna Bell: 'We are all entitled'

Lorna Bell accepts flowers from Special Olympian Nigel Davis after being declared Alpha Academy Woman of Excellence for 2006.

After last week's opening of the Special Olympics Court sponsored by the Digicel Foundation, I had to post this column on Lorna Bell, the passionate Executive Director of Special Olympics Jamaica. Lorna has inspired the Foundation and many others to support special needs Jamaicans.

by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Monday, June 04, 2007 
column in the Jamaica Observer
Lorna Bell speaks with such urgency that you are swept along, instantly sold on her breathless mission to give our Special Olympians their moment in the sun. Lorna is passionate about these athletes, intellectually disabled yet capable of so much if they are only given the right support. Their motto can inspire even the brightest and best: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave."
"We are all entitled," says Lorna. "I have seen these athletes grow in confidence and become great achievers. Our Junior Richards ran 18th out of 486 in the last Reggae Marathon."
When Lorna got the call that she had been voted Alpha Academy's Woman of Excellence, she checked her calendar and explained that it would be impossible to do anything on a day when she was launching the National Special Olympic Games involving 800 participants. She finally capitulated and that same evening, about a week ago, she changed from her sweats into formal wear and enjoyed the unaccustomed limelight as she received the award.
We were blown away when Special Olympian Nigel Davis glided in on skates, twirling elegantly between the tables at the Terra Nova, to the strains of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful", and stopped beside his mentor and coach to present her with flowers. Davis, a silver medallist in skating, certainly has no self-esteem handicap. Lorna Bell and her volunteers absolutely get it: the disabled among us are a special opportunity to surpass our ordinariness with extraordinary empathy, in a mutually enriching experience.
Having taken Ireland by storm four years ago in the World Special Olympics, Lorna and her record-breaking team have their sights set on the China event. "September 26 - October 13, this year," Lorna told us, "fifty-five athletes all with intellectual disabilities will journey to Shanghai, China, for the 2007 World Summer Games, where they will compete on the world stage."
She has been feverishly pounding the pavement to raise the funds for this long-awaited event. This is Lorna's way. "Time is one of the most precious gifts you can give to a person," she told us as she reflected on the kindnesses she enjoyed at her alma mater. "Money cannot buy lasting joy, maybe just a very temporary relief . I encourage all present to reach out and make a difference. If each of us tried, just imagine how changed our country could be."
And how she has tried. Before taking the top post with Special Olympics, Lorna worked with Mustard Seed Communities for over three years, handling two demanding assignments in Haiti, travelling on the tap-tap buses and discovering the warmth and goodness of the Haitian people. "Even the poor who really had next to nothing would offer me food," Lorna recalls. "I had to pretend I wasn't hungry so I wouldn't deprive them. I really lost a lot of weight in Haiti!"
She was a regular visitor to the inmates at Fort Augusta Prison and spearheaded a walkathon, a Kiwanis New Kingston project, to raise awareness and support for children with HIV/AIDS.
My memory of young Lorna Talbot was a figure of perpetual motion on the sportsfield at Alpha. Then I lost track of her, only to discover that she was the grieving wife left behind when local football star and coach Winthorpe "Jackie" Bell perished in a bus crash in 1986 while attending the World Cup in Mexico City.
But the same guts that turned her into such a star on the tennis court brought her through her sorrow and deepened her passion for the handicapped and less fortunate. With her supportive family, she nurtured her two fatherless young daughters, Natasha who now holds a PhD in education, a highly respected maths coach in Florida, and Tamika who is PR manager for the Broward County Transportation system.
Lorna credits her parents, her teachers, family and friends for helping her to achieve her goals. She recalls being accompanied by Principal Sister Mary Bernadette to the airport for her first trip abroad to play tennis for Alpha. "While at the airport seeing us off, she gave me an envelope with US$50 in it," recalls Lorna. "This was my first trip abroad. This simple act of kindness touched me so much. I was once in need and am the living testament of how recipients can blossom from the genuine and simple gift of giving."
Lorna is the first to tell you that her achievements in sports outshone those in academia, but listening to her strong delivery, it made us realise that once you develop your special gifts, the others also escalate. Now Lorna's love for sports is being used to transform lives. Parents of Special Olympians will tell you of the new light that shines in the eyes of their children as they realise that indeed, they can be champions too. This prowess on the field builds their confidence to help them succeed at everyday tasks they had previously thought impossible.
Now, Lorna is turning around and thanking the very athletes she has helped, for discovering in her life the deep joy of seeing a fellow human being survive and thrive. Her bookish schoolmates all rose to their feet to applaud this good woman, whose energy seems to have no bounds, whose hazel eyes still bear a hint of girlish mischief and whose spirit has awakened a new hope in Jamaica's previously forgotten children.

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