VANCOUVER -- B.C. speedskater Matthew Williams has been awarded male athlete of the year by Special Olympics Canada.

Williams, 28, who’s also a global ambassador for the organization, was born with epilepsy and has an intellectual disability.

“Before I found Special Olympics I was ashamed to have a disability and I didn’t want to be different than anyone else. I couldn’t accept my disability” Williams told CTV News. 

But when the then Langley teenager was introduced to Special Olympics B.C., it boosted his confidence and changed his life.

“When people with disabilities find Special Olympics it creates an environment for them to change the way they see themselves," Williams said.

From floor hockey, to basketball, to speed skating, Williams tried them all, but it was on the ice where he found his greatest success. 

In 2017, he represented Canada in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.

“It was a cool experience, when you get a chance to compete against athletes from around the world,” he said.

In the speed skating 1,000 meters final race, it came down to Williams and a Russian skater for gold. 

“I probably had the best race I’d ever had in a competition … from that performance I was able to bring home the silver medal, for me that was a thrill,” he said. 

Special Olympics was founded in 1968 and it is dedicated to enriching the lives of Canadians with an intellectual disability through sport.

“Anyone, any age and any ability, we have a program for them in Special Olympics” says Lois McNary, vice president of sport for Special Olympics B.C.

Williams is “one of those people that when you meet him you go ‘wow this is a really amazing man,’” said McNary. 

During the pandemic, isolation has been an issue for some Special Olympics athletes who aren’t able to see friends or play sports, however many have been training through virtual Zoom sessions.

“We’ll get through it the best we can. Trying to keep safe and healthy is the most important thing for all of us,” Williams said.

Williams said he is grateful to live in Canada where he’s seeing an increase in inclusion . 

“Unfortunately, in other parts of the world people with intellectual disabilities don’t have those same opportunities and have a lot of unfortunate challenges they face in their everyday life,” he said.

Although attitudes towards people disabilities are changing, some still have a perception that those with intellectual disabilities “are not very capable of being able to do much,” Williams said.

“(They think) we are not smart, there is a very negative perception. Now, there is a lot more inclusion going on (and) we are seen in a different light.”