DOVILE SEDUIKYTE / AIPS YR in GRAZ**: Lithuania is the small country of 3m on the Baltic coast but with a record 28 participants at the Special Olympics Winter Games in Austria.

These 28 include, for the first time, a floor hockey team featuring Ernestas Sakalauskas and Linas Vasiliauskas who are building their own path towards a brighter tomorrow – literally.

The leaders of Lithuania’s floor hockey team are on their way to become builders. Both are studying at Kaunas Building School and playing as many sports as possible.

Captain Sakalauskas is a leader on and off the court. He, rather than the coaches, is usually the one to check: “Does everyone have everything and we are good to leave?”

After Lithuania lost 6:2 to Sweden he was visibly upset and did not mince his words, saying: “Maybe some of the players don’t understand what we are doing. Maybe they are lazy. We can play better than that.”

The 20-year-old started playing floor hockey not long ago. His true passion is football in which he plays as a striker. He is happy that sports allow him to travel outside Lithuania and is quick to name all the countries he has visited.

Self-belief

Vasiliauskas, 23, is very different to his best friend

Asked how sports helped in daily life, he said: “I learned how to trust other people and believe in myself. I play football, basketball and floor hockey now.”

He also loves football best. But his favourite is not Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo or even local hero Deividas Šemberas. Instead he said: “Ernestas is very good player,” revealing the loyalty of true friends.

Their coach, Vida Misevičienė, said that he two could spend the whole day playing and never grow tired.

As Misevičienė said: “They are very motivated. They know that sports is their way of connecting to the world, having a chance to see more and control the emotions that sometimes can be overwhelming.”

** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide – currently holding a Young Reporters graduation course at the Special Olympics Winter Games in Austria. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com. The Young Reporters Programme has been made possible thanks to the support of the European Union’s Erasmus + programme. Also see Twitter @DovileSeduikyte

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