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Get To Know Rachael Lee, A Fitness Coach with a Big Heart

"Get involved with us today, as a volunteer or as our athlete's training buddy."

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Editor's Note: Rachael Lee is an international certified Personal Trainer from Fitness Institute Australia and a certified Les Mills group exercise instructor. She graduated from the University of Western Australia, Perth in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science (Major in Sports, Exercise and Health Science). In this feature, we ask Rachael about her passions for people and for fitness.

Tell us about yourself.

Hello! I am Rachael Lee (26 years old) from a small town called Kuala Belait. I now live in Bandar Seri Begawan. I give back my passion and strength for sports and fitness to the community - the world's most priceless and fulfilling job. I am also a part-time volunteer basketball and fitness coach for athletes with intellectual disabilities and special needs in Brunei.

I have always been a sports athlete (basketball, netball, track and field, futsal) since young with basketball as my main sport - of which I hold close to my heart until today as a player for the Brunei Women's Team since I was 18 years old. 

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How did you get into fitness?

I was a sports athlete from young, but a late bloomer in fitness. Fitness made its way into my life as my daily fix from my early 20s. Since my university years, I realised it helped me become a better sports player and athlete. By improving my fitness knowledge, it also helped children and individuals with motor dysfunction and special needs in improving their quality of life to their best ability. With the results shown through the conducted fitness programs for individuals with special needs, I fell in love with the thought of it.

It was during my months closing up to my final semester at university that I knew - one day, I needed to take my passion and enthusiasm for basketball and fitness one step ahead for the community back home in Brunei - be it as an athlete, a fitness trainer, a basketball coach or basketball and fitness event planner.

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Share with us about the Special Olympics Brunei Darussalam.

Coming back to Brunei after graduation and after securing a fulltime job at a health club, I was not content. I needed to be involved somehow with a special needs organisation in order to still do what ignites the fire within me. This was when I was introduced to Special Olympics Brunei Darussalam (SOBD) committee members in mid-2014, Ms Tsara Nawwarah and Ms Dawn Lee.

SOBD is a non-profit, non-government organisation, which works closely with several government ministries as well as other Brunei-based non-government organisations. The mission of SOBD is to provide individuals with intellectual disabilities with opportunities to participate in Olympic-type sports such as Bocce, Football and Bowling, while promoting a healthy lifestyle through healthy bodies, healthy minds and healthy attitudes. Special Olympics fosters the competitive spirit, and allows the individuals with intellectual disabilities to be exposed to a world and cultures beyond their own.

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What are some of the challenges you face? How rewarding is it? 

Challenges I face include the inability to safety accomodate all athletes in one session. I try to ensure that each attending athlete benefits as much as they can. I would like to be able to conduct a session for 25 athletes - however, sometimes with the lack of volunteers and with the different conditions of athletes present at session - a big number can be a chaotic.

Another challenge is that currently there are only two of us volunteering as fitness coaches. We would like to hopefully scout for new volunteer fitness coaches to do the same so that we will be able to open more sessions to accomodate other athletes who are unable to make it to our current weekly schedule.

The rewarding part of it that keeps me looking forward to every SOBD coaching session? Despite all the different levels of intellectual disabilities and special needs, it is the many warm happy high-fives and welcomes of 'Hi Coach Rachael!' that gives me a positive boost of energy. The visible excitement of the athletes, and their fitness improvements drives me forward. And of course not to forget, all the satisfied happy parents shaking my hands and constant gratitude from them after every session conducted. =)

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Tell us about the Adaptive Fitness Programme.

After being involved with SOBD for over six months as a volunteer basketball coach - I wanted the athletes to improve more as a sportsperson and better their general well-being as an individual. Hence, I properly planned, launched and introduced Adaptive Fitness Programme - a similar programme that I was conducting in university. The programme is a weekly health and fitness session which focuses on introducing fitness and physical movements which are suitable to their motor capabilities. In turn, improving not only their fitness, daily motor movements - but also their social skills, mindset, moods, appetite and their overall well-being.

The first platform of the Adaptive Fitness Programme was opened for special athletes 12 years old and above at Fitness Zone Health Club. Now, we have our second platform at Hybrid Movement Gym for special athletes 8-12 years old.

The response has been great from the supportive parents with maximum numbers capped every session. There are now special centres requesting for the programme to be conducted at their venue. We are looking forward to be able to open more platforms of opportunities for other individuals with intellectual disabilities and special needs to join our fitness programme.

You recently held a workshop at Crossfit Manila on "Adaptive Fitness". Share your experience with us.

I am a CrossFit athlete and I believe in the power of sharing and educating my fitness innovatives and programme ideas for special athletes across the country - so why not, across the border? The workshop was a success - it opened the minds of not only the crossfit coaches at CrossFit Manila Mall of Asia, but also the Special Olympics Philippines coaches of the special athletes who attended the workshop. All parties now further understand that adaptive fitness training is crucial and needs to be included in their regime in order for the special athletes to better themselves for their respective sports selection in Special Olympics.

I do hope to do more cross-border educative workshop for fitness professionals of the general population and special education teachers: to educate and create awareness about the possibilities and wonders of fitness training for athletes with special needs and also share the concept of SOBD Adaptive Fitness Programme.

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Any words of encourage to those considering getting involved?

Athletes with intellectual disabilities and special needs may have their differences and limitations - but they too just want to live a normal life like all of us. They want to be given a chance to excel in what they can - in the case of the Special Olympics world: to excel and fly high in their chosen sports. They do too, represent our country, Brunei Darussalam in international competitive sporting competitions to make our nation proud. The athletes goes through weekly fitness trainings and sports trainings to make sure they are fit to compete in their sports.

SOBD welcomes all individuals with and without intellectual disabilities and special needs to be part of our family. We are an inclusive, welcoming and supportive community which ensure that everyone and anyone who gets involved the first time with our athletes - will bring home with them a very memorable and unforgettable experience.

Get involved with us today - as a volunteer or as our athlete's training buddy. If you are already a sports coach and would like to volunteer to coach our athletes in any type of sports - you are more than welcomes to speak to any of our SOBD committee members.

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