Sporting Stories writes... This piece celebrates the great work that Special Olympics GB does for sport. Harry Pointon, vice-chairman of Special Olympics North Staffordshire (far right in the photo below), has sent us some lovely quotes from his athletes and Natalia, our work experience student has worked them into the following article. Thanks to Harry, the athletes and Natalia. Thanks also to Special Olympics GB for permission to use their logo in this piece.
At Special Olympics Great Britain, the mission is simple: to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for all children and adults with intellectual disabilities. From this, they grow stronger, braver, and develop skills and talents they can share with their families as well as with other Special Olympics athletes who they bond with. Currently, there are 150 Special Olympics clubs in Great Britain, run by over 3,000 volunteers, coaching around 8,000 athletes.
Since their formation in 1978 as part of the global Special Olympics movement, the GB team has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of individuals through sport. For North Staffordshire Special Olympics athletes Julie Goldsmith and Richard Nelson, this meant keeping fit and healthy and improving their strength.
Julie: “Going to Northwood Stadium for running keeps me fit and healthy and we are improving very well. I have been going for a long time and make good friends with other teams. It doesn’t matter where I come it is the taking part in SO events. We will be going to Sheffield in 2017. I will be running the 200m, relay, 100m and running long jump.”
Richard: “Special Olympics has helped me get my strength back to a previous level and the exercise helps me to keep my weight down and gives me confidence to meet new people.”
Ashley Houghton, on the other hand, talks more about how she has grown confident “in life and sports”. Similarly Steve Falmer has been keen to put these skills to the test “at college and independent living”: the Special Olympics provide a lifetime of learning.
Ashley: “I make friends and it gives me confidence in life and in sports Confidence gives me a good feeling amongst other Athletes.”
Steve: “It has me to make a lot of new friends i am looking forward to competing at basketball in the National games in 2017.”
Team GB is a recognised member of the Olympic family with a unique role to play. In contrast to the Paralympics, which provide sports competitions for elite level disabled athletes with disabilities, the Special Olympics provides community sport all year at all levels for those with intellectual disabilities. This provides a new, social community environment for the athletes, like Michelle Norris and Neil Dinsdale who love to meet new people and enjoy the competitions.
Michelle: “It means to me a feeling of achievement winning medals at competitions. I love to meet people and gets me out of the house I enjoy competitions.”
Neil: “Special Olympics has helped me in meeting new people. Special Olympics has brought me on a lot. I enjoy the training at basketball and learning new skills Special Olympics helps me to get on with people in general and helps me to keep a control in myself. Special Olympics does a lot for me regarding life skills and the world. I would like to follow this up at college and independent living.”
For spectators, the Special Olympics may seem to be a competition once or twice a year. However, for local competitors like Michelle Parker or Mai Andrews who aim for gold, the training never stops and is just as important to them as the competition itself.
Michelle: “Special Olympics means a lot to me because I have learnt to be more confident. Also make new friends and aim for gold. I feel happy when I win and to show Harry how much I have improved. I travel to new places.”
Mai: “Special Olympics has helped me to get achievements in running swimming and basketball.”
Other than the physical achievements of the athletes, there is also an inner pride: for Ruth Wheawall this was “representing the West Midlands”; for Jane Brough this was to carry “the torch at the National Games”.
Ruth: “Everyone is a good sport. Achievements and winning medals. We wear a West Midlands kit.”
Jane: “I like to go to Special Olympics competitions, where once I carried the torch at the National Games. It gives me interest in everyday life.”
The power of sport should never be underestimated. For Malcolm Cass this means years of training and competitions as well as developing in confidence– all driven purely by the interest and excitement of sport.
Malcolm: “It’s helped me learn a lot and make new friends. I enjoy doing SO and it keeps you fit. I find it interesting and exciting to do sports. I like going to athletics meetings and it’s great running and you can get medals and go on the podium. We have done it for years. It’s great fun SO is. I improved on my running at Northwood Stadium. I thought the indoor event was really special to me last year. You make new friends and get to socialise with lots of people.”
It's not just the athletes who appreciate the Special Olympics: these are the words of the parent of participant Diane Eaton: "Most of the young people who attend practice sessions at Northwood Stadium are vulnerable and have little finance. As a parent of one of these youngsters and a volunteer at Special Olympics, I witness tremendous improvement, over time and to varying degrees, in all the participants in their self-confidence, social and life skills, and team building awareness. Special Olympics provides a safe environment and brings out competitiveness to achieve their full potential at an affordable cost."
Some final words from the coaches, who make all this possible:
Harry Pointon, Head Coach Athletics and Vice-Chairman of Special Olympics North Staffordshire: “I have been involved with Special Olympics since 1982 and seen lots of them growing up through the years to what they are today. The gratitude I get from them is immensely rewarding, they have all become a wonderful family to me.”
David Floyd Assistant Coach North Staffordshire Special Olympics (Athletics): “I know that these special athletes if they are running jumping throwing the soft ball or the shot, at their own level they go full out for it. They are very competitive they have great camaraderie and when I see them at the winner’s rostrum receiving their awards be it gold or just a participation ribbon, the smiles on their faces is wonderful. In my experience they possess all the best qualities of the human spirit and I’m proud to be with them and count them as friends.”
So, as well as the Special Olympics providing a challenging, competitive atmosphere for all, they also provide friendship, courage and experience. Gary Jones and Lee Jones sum it up best:
Gary: “Means you are special. Mix with other people. Get on with everyone. Everyone is nice and friendly. Coaches are lovely. Harry is a lovely man.”
Lee: just “Brilliant”.