Meet Nylda of Gladius Athletic Foundation
We come from families where both of our fathers were blind; we understand first-hand the frustration, lack of empowerment and the lack of acceptance from society due to a disability. Due to the blindness, both fathers were diligently trying to find the balance between the world of limitation and the world of once having the ability. This left them feeling isolated, frustrated and completely dependent on others after having been very independent people. Among the effects was weight gain from the lack of movement, socialization, and inclusion.
My husband and I have been fencers for many years. I managed a fencing club at one point, when several individuals with special needs come through the club. Our fathers and these students are the inspiration for the foundation. Once they were given a private lesson, they were hooked. It gave these students the empowerment to believe they could do anything. Since then we have been teaching at Mychal’s Learning Place, until the COVID shutdown, and want to bring this to the public for everyone with special need to have the opportunity to try something new and getting in shape in the process
This has not been a easy road. COVID, fear of something different, lack of understanding and knowledge. Any sport can be changed to adapt to the needs of an individual and that is what we have done with fencing. We are trying to change the stigma and bias society has about individuals with special needs. Society focus on the limitation of what they can and cannot do. We focus on process, not perfection. We found the limitations placed on the special needs individuals was similar to those placed on our blind fathers. One of the greatest struggles is convincing people that special needs individuals to not need to be protected from the world, but rather, want and need to explore the world. They are not unable to learn new tasks, but merely learn differently. People don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, that learning any new skill is process of steps, gaining competence at each level. People think we just give these students fencing swords and turn them loose on each other. This idea cannot be more wrong. Every student must show discipline and capability before advancing to the next phase.
We are foundation that is dedicated to training special needs athletes in non-traditional sports. We are known for the way we teach. We have each student come up before the class and lead an exercise for their peers. This gives them a sense of leadership and ownership for the class. This portion is one of the most rewarding. To see each student develop confidence and self-esteem, while improving their skills of speaking and fencing. To see their abilities grow is priceless. This, in turn, has given them the confidence to advocate for themselves.
What sets us apart from others is that we believe people are more than their limitations. Don’t tell us what you can’t do, tell us what you can do and let’s build from there.
We measure success by the personal achievement of the students. This is a step by step process. There is nothing better than to see the light go off and the students realize how well they are doing. Believing that they really do have an ability to fence. Sometimes, it just simply pointing out how far they have come to where they are at now. Changing the negative into a positive.