When you first meet Sadik İslandı, an 18 year old Special Olympics basketball player from Istanbul, Turkey, you are struck by a confident, charming young man. But what you really need to realise is that Sadik’s life so far is a testament to the power of basketball in transforming lives.
Sadik was 11 and in fifth grade in school when he was eventually diagnosed with an intellectual disability. Up to this point he was regarded as aggressive, and disruptive. Many people with intellectual disabilities have difficulties with communication. An inability to listen, to express yourself or to have a conversation can lead to being given labels such as: “bad boy”, ““bold”, and “delinquent”.
Sadik’s parents were very poor and as a young child Sadik’s father forced him to beg on the streets to support the family. His own limitations led him to be involved in many street fights.
His situation worsened when at the age of ten both Sadik’s parents passed away and in a cruel twist of fate his family were forced to separate. While Sadik stayed in the care of his older sister, the Turkish authorities took his beloved younger sister into care. Sadik’s older sister was working as a shop assistant and her salary was considered inadequate to support both children.
On being diagnosed with having an intellectual disability, Sadik was transferred to a special education school. There he met a Special Olympics coach and began training in athletics. It was at this point that his life started to turn a corner. His Special Olympics coach gave him the opportunities to reveal his true potential through training and competing year round in a choice of sports.
Soon others began to recognise the champion within Sadik. Many successful competitions brought him to winning first place in athletics at the Istanbul City Special Olympics Games. For three years he was the uncontested national winner in the 100 meter race and he set several new regional and national records in athletics.
However it was basketball that really became his true love. He not only met but exceeded his own personal goal of being accepted into his school basketball team. In 2010 Sadik played a key role in his school team claiming third place in the Special Olympics Regional Basketball Tournament.
The team and leaderships skills he has learnt by competing in basketball have brought significant benefits to his personal life. Now Sadik is an independent young man who takes care of himself, and enjoys many friendships. Travelling independently around the vast city of Istanbul, with its population of 20 million, while managing public transport schedules and meeting appointments are all challenges Sadik has mastered.
One of his favourite journeys is travelling on his own to Istanbul airport to welcome home his favourite basketball team, Fenerbahce Ülker after they have been competing abroad.
Now Sadik has a new goal: to become a Special Olympic basketball coach. As a first step he has entered into the “Special Olympics Coach Assistant Program”. With his personality and the leadership skills he has learnt on court he is already a role model to his fellow teammates, so it won’t be long until his dream of becoming a Special Olympics basketball coach comes true.