By Jamila Cross email@example.com
Deep passion and commitment to see a son with special needs thrive has driven Simone Soo Ting-Bethel to develop a strong voice advocating for her son, and parents who often lack the resources and support system to provide the necessary opportunities for their children’s holistic development.
In 2000, she gave birth to her son, Trent. At age three, an incident which escalated at preschool was the catalyst for his teacher suggesting that she seek professional assessment with a clinical psychologist for him.
Marina Torres tested and confirmed that Trent was autistic and shared with Simone referrals for speech and occupational therapy. Her first thought, “It is better to deal with this, rather than living in denial.”
Simone describes the many times during the early part of the journey where she was not alone but felt alone in her experiences. She started to follow up on the referrals and the process for learning and growing with a child with autism. This would ultimately include hiring a speech pathologist, clinical psychologist/child specialist, audiologist and looking for an appropriate school to meet his educational, behavioural, and emotional support needs.
D & D Educational Centre became a very familial environment during Trent’s formative years, and she learnt to practise being more patient, digging deep to find out what motivated Trent, what doors needed to be pushed open so that he could fulfil what she saw as his limitless potential.
As she reflects, Simone describes holding on to the belief that ‘nothing happens before its time, and everything that happens in life, happens for a reason’. This was ever-present within her own family, revealing that it took time for some family members to grasp the nature of Trent’s intellectual disability, and to adapt to his needs.
Simone recounts during her pregnancy, going to the beach with Patrick, her husband and Trent’s father, and camping for Easter at Maracas, and having her son immersed in water. She believes his love for water started in the womb!
At age 14, while still navigating new educational experiences, he was introduced to swimming at the Centre of Excellence, and together with instructor Dale Bacchus, he can only be described as a natural swimmer. Around this time, he was also enrolled in Goodwill Industries, learning a trade and there began his first introduction to the Special Olympics.
Gold in the Backstroke
In 2018, Trent participated in his first local Special Olympics swimming event at the Diego Martin Community Swimming Pool, competing in the 25m freestyle, relay, and backstroke. Simone reveals her nervous excitement, and pride at her son’s performance.
Trent evokes the unbridled emotions of joy, and happiness in his voice when he describes his love for the water and support from his family, and the community of master’s swimmers who have encouraged him to become a more competitive athlete.
Trent trains with two adult master swimmers William Carr and Patrick Lee Loy who have truly nurtured his talent and improved his technique. Prior to Covid-19, he trained with master’s swimmers at T&T Aquatics, three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Saturday) and completed open water Sunday swims with Trinity Masters.
He has developed a strong bond with Carr whom he describes with absolute joy as “patient and attentive”, who makes him feel like he is doing extremely well and pushes him to do better.
Carr does not consider himself a coach, but his strength lies in open-water swimming. He understands the mental and physical training required particularly for longer distances and alludes to the fact that he and Trent swim well together pushing each other. “He is the only swimmer I let touch my foot but it’s my way of knowing he is still there and his way of telling me he is still in my draft.”
He feels that one day it would be the opposite as Trent continues to improve and would probably lead the pack.
Five years after taking his first plunge into the pool, Trent was selected to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the 2019 Dubai International Special Olympics with fellow national Special Olympians Nikoli Lalla, Jaleel Pierre, Donovan Garib; open-water team Stefan Singh and Shania Surajbally; and the relay team of Trent, Nikoli, Jaleel and Donovan.
The collective euphoria shared by family, and friends alike was incomparable, as he won gold in the 25m backstroke and in the 4 x 50m relay.
In the future, Trent would like to continue swimming, and add cycling to his sporting events. There will certainly be many more Special Olympics representations to come, and while an escort is normally required, he would like to explore the possibility of competing in mainstream events.
Simone is eternally thankful for the Trinity Masters, and Gordon Borde for creating an environment of acceptance, inclusion and understanding for the Special Olympians.
I ask her one final question: What would she have told her younger self to find encouragement during the low moments? “Don’t give up, it is not the end of the world.”
She invites parents of children with special needs, especially those living in areas with limited access to information and resources, and seemingly insurmountable challenges to speak with a professional, community-based social worker to get the help, guidance and support required so their children are not left behind.
Jamila Cross played professionally for Sevilla FC women’s Club in Spain (2005). She is the mother of three boys Tishad, Akim and Santiago and a passionate advocate for access to sport and education as powerful tools for youth empowerment. Her life mission is to travel the globe building deeply connected human and spiritual experiences through a life of love, service, gratitude, and trust.