As the crowd at Loyola Blakefield High School begins to cheer for the start of the 200-meter freestyle relay at the 2016 Maryland Special Olympic Summer Games, 35-year-old David Godoy waits patiently behind the block, sitting in a black fold-up chair.
His eyes scan the building, first staring down the water in front of him, then the roaring crowd above him, before turning to look at his teammates, with a big smile on his face.
Godoy is set to go forth and anchor the Montgomery County relay. He feels ready, anxious and excited all at the same time. It’s his first event of the competition, and he has been practicing since February for this moment.
The official blows his whistles, signaling for the first swimmer to enter the water to begin the race. Seven swimmers enter the water, but one remains in its chair behind the block, staring down the cool, blue water in front of him with a look of absolute terror on his face.
The swimmer stands up and makes his way over to the block, only to pause again. Godoy, who can’t walk without assistance, leaps into action and maneuvers his way to the block to talk to his teammate.
As the captain of the relay, it’s his job to calm down his teammate. Godoy looks his teammate in the eye and mutters five simple words: ‘everything is going to be okay.”
Moments later, Godoy’s teammate is in the water and racing.
“I gave him some confidence in himself, that no matter what kind of disability you have, anything is possible in this life,” Godoy said.
David Godoy encouraging his relay teammates at the 2016 Summer Games
The team came in last, but Godoy doesn’t care. As he climbs out of the pool after the race, his smile is even bigger than it was before the race.
“After the race, he came up to me and said ‘I know that we came in last but you know what, I’m proud because we didn’t get disqualified,’ Margie Young, the head coach of the Montgomery County Special Olympics swim team, said.
Godoy has shattered many stereotypes in his short life, and plans to continue doing so. He is not only a multi-sport athlete for Special Olympics Maryland, but a global messenger, musician, model.
Godoy was born in Ecuador with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects body movement, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance and is the result of brain injury or brain malfunction.
At the time, growing up in Ecuador with a disability was difficult, and the country was far behind the United States in accessibility and education for children with special needs.
When he was 14, Godoy got on an airplane, with his mother and two sisters. Together, they made the 2,800-mile journey from Ecuador to Silver Spring, Maryland.
The family was excited; a new country meant new opportunities.
“We decided to move mainly to pursue education,” Mercedes Brito, Godoy’s mother, said. “The schooling for people with disabilities was very precarious at the time. That’s not the case now, there are a lot of very good programs that have been implemented since then, but at that time we didn’t have that.”
The family moved in with Brito’s brother and sister. Godoy attended John F. Kennedy High School, where he could get an education and learn at a pace suitable for him.
At home, Godoy said his mother played a big role in his learning.
“My mom used to draw pictures with words for me,” Godoy said. “If there was a cat, my mom drew a cat. If there was a dog, my mom drew a dog. So later on I could identity which one is the dog, which one is the cat.That’s how I learned to read and write.”
Godoy grew up in a family of musicians, where almost everyone played an instrument or had some connection to the music industry.
“David grew up in an environment where he was provided with the opportunity to be involved with music since he was maybe four or five years old,” Brito said. “Its part of who he is.”
He began to take classes, where he learned how to play the recorder and the clarinet and then the saxophone.“I started listening to my grandparents, uncles, aunts and I paid close attention, listening with my ears,” Godoy said. “My music also helped me to talk, to be able to write, to be able to learn another language, to be able to do math, history, science all the subjects in school they teach.”
However, high school was hard for Godoy at times, and he said the other students often called him mean things.
“I happened to be bullied in school but I never paid attention to those people because I always look at the positive side of life,” he said.
He graduated high school in 2002, proving that he could do anything he sets his mind to.
“Many people thought that I was never going to be able to walk, to talk, to even learn math or science or history or any subjects in school,” Godoy said. “I proved to all of those people that they were extremely wrong.”
“Anything is possible in this life”
That’s the message that David Godoy has lived by, and one that he wants to pass on to others. From a very young age, Godoy wanted to play sports, but he can’t walk without assistance and uses crutches or a motorized scooter to get around.
“He always wanted to do sports and we tried to provide that by adapting things,” Brito said. “It was very limited to the family and him.”
Godoy, however, wanted to do more. When he was about twenty-years-old, he discovered Special Olympics and signed himself up.
He started off with three sports, but the list quickly expanded to include seven sports: bowling, volleyball, swimming, cycling, snowshoeing, sailing and horseback riding.
Swimming quickly became his favorite sport, and he has dedicated the most time to it. Young has been coaching Godoy for 11 years in not only swimming, but also cycling and snowshoeing as well. She said Godoy is very motivated and focused during practice and competitions.
“David knows that he swims slow because he has no lower body strength so he relies on upper body strength,” Young said. “He really works hard to be the best athlete that his body allows him to.”
When he saw a teammate struggling with backstroke one day at practice, Godoy said he took it upon himself to help his teammate overcome his fear.
“I am the kind of athlete who likes to help his or her teammates when they are struggling in the water,” Godoy said. “He is very tentative and afraid, he doesn’t like to do it. I happened to encourage him not to be afraid.”
Godoy worked with his teammate, and soon he was able to swim backstroke without any fear.
“If I see another teammate of mine in the same situation, I won’t wait any longer,” Godoy said. “I will be there to help him out no matter what.”
“He became a global messenger, and now goes around the state speaking about Special Olympics Maryland and his experiences.” Brito said.
“I think Special Olympics has a very good impact in David’s life because it is not only helping him staying physically fit, but also provides him with opportunity for social interaction with other athletes,” Brito said.
Godoy has also had the opportunity to play the saxophone in front of large audiences through Special Olympics Maryland, including most recently performing ‘We are the Champions’ at the Summer Games opening ceremonies, in front of a crowd of 1,200 athletes, parents, coaches and volunteers.
“My favorite instrument is saxophone because you can express your feelings,” Godoy said. “I have had the opportunity on several occasions to show my talent by playing the national anthem. That is such an honor for me and my family.”
Changing the world
Godoy frequently goes back to Ecuador to visit his grandfather and other family members. On one visit in 2011, he got the chance to perform with some of his family members at Lenin Moreno’s holiday party.
Godoy’s family is good friends with Moreno, the Vice President of Ecuador from 2007–2013, and the current Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility for the United Nations.
Moreno was shot in the back in 1998 and was paralyzed. It took him four years to recover and he didn’t return to work until 2001. Moreno is one of the world’s only disabled national leaders.
Moreno has incorporated many changes, and according to Godoy, Ecuador is now more accessible.” In 2012, Moreno was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize because of his Ecuador sin barreras (Ecuador without Barriers) project, which attempts to promote the rights of disabled people in Ecuador.
Even though Moreno is no longer the Vice President of Ecuador, Godoy said the two have stayed in touch.
Living a full life
According the Godoy, he has three main passions in life, the first being Special Olympics, followed closely by his music. His third passion, modeling, developed recently.
Three years ago Mayerly Rodriguez, a Colombian born fashion designer, asked him to be a part of the Maryland fashion show. Rodriguez created a line of clothes specifically for disabled people, and invited Godoy to model them for her.
“It was extremely wonderful experience for me,” Godoy said. “This friend, she has also been a supporter because even though she lives far away, we still keep in touch.”
Godoy was also a part of the Fairfax fashion show in 2015, and hopes to model more in the future.
He also hopes to continue with Special Olympics and music for as well for as long as he can, and hopes to inspire more people to live a full life.
“To all the people who are facing the same struggles, keep your head up high and always look for the future,” Godoy said. “Live in the present moment without any doubts, without any fears. Look at yourself like a normal person that has no disability, no obstacles in your way. I am trying to give a positive message that whatever difficulties you are facing in life, and there are going to be difficulties in your life and there are going to be obstacles in your life, yes you can do it and yes you can be successful.”
This article was written by Special Olympics Maryland