Thirty years after discovering Special Olympics on the subway, this Toronto soccer player is heading to World Games

So Team Canada soccer player poses for a photo holding a soccer ball in front of a soccer net.
George Ricardo at his SO Team Canada training camp in January.

It was a chance encounter on the Toronto subway in 1986 that lead George Ricardo to Special Olympics.

While waiting at Dufferin Station, he noticed a few people he recognized carrying hockey equipment. He followed them eastbound, out of the station and to their Special Olympics floor hockey practice.

He immediately signed up.

“It gave me something to do – I would be bored doing nothing if I didn’t sign up,” he said. “I got to try different things I’ve never done before like hockey, soccer, baseball, track and field, speed skating – you name it.” 

Today – more than 30 years later – he’s still trying new things, like competing at the Special Olympics World Games.

“Finally,” the 52-year-old said about qualifying for the international competition.

After three decades of determined training and many close calls, Ricardo will compete in soccer at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi March 14 to 21. He, alongside 109 Special Olympics Team Canada athletes, head to the United Arab Emirates next week.

“I can’t wait to get there,” Ricardo said. “I’m sure I’m going to meet everybody from Zimbabwe to England and Australia.”

Special Olympics “means a lot” to Ricardo, not only because it helped improve his skills on the field and get him to the world stage, but also because it helped him make friends across Ontario, the country – and now the globe.

Before he discovered Special Olympics, Ricardo tried generic sports as a teen. With an intellectual disability, as well as being visually and hearing impaired, he struggled to fit in and found the crowd wasn’t as friendly.

“Special Olympics is way better,” he said.

Ricardo has been playing with his Brampton-based soccer team for the past 15 years, taking the GO Bus several times a week to get to training.

“I play with the best team in the whole wide world,” he said, adding that it’s everyone’s first time competing at World Games.

As the eldest, Ricardo shared some sage advice with his teammates: “Play hard, work hard, pass the ball around, shoot some shots, score some goals and get the gold medal!”

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