This is my second time volunteering for Special Olympics and something that started from the London Olympics in 2012. I was fortunate enough to be one of 70,000 games makers who got to dress up in purple and change the attitude in London over a couple of weeks in that magical summer that was 2012.
Many of us have taken the experience and continued the journey. Some 400/500 followed up in 2013 and volunteered for the Bath Special Olympics summer games and many are back here in Sheffield.
Special Olympics are part of the Olympic family, focusing on people with intellectual disabilities. In the UK, there are 1.4 million people with an intellectual disability. It’s not a disease, physical or mental illness- there is no cure. It’s normally caused before, during, or shortly after birth and can be from mild to profound. It’s a condition that affects learning, development, communication and understanding.
Sport is one of those things that brings people together. You only have to look at the change that went on in London 2012 to see people from all over the world coming together, getting on and enjoying a shared experience.
Special Olympics is no different. The spirit that exists here is the same as five years ago. People come together to support and help others achieve their best. There are some differences in the way that competitions are run. In order to ensure each event is competitive, athletes are split into divisions based on ability, age and gender. Divisions are generally small.
I’ve been based in Ponds Forge international sports centre where Swimming and Boccia have been taking place. Given I’m a geek I’ve been tasked working the computers that produce the results for Boccia. It’s been a fairly full on week. Each day starts of in a relaxed fashion. Most mornings I’ve taken an hour out to explore Sheffield on my bicycle. This morning was no different. I cycled out of town along the canal where some of the “Full Monty” scenes were shot. The canal still has in parts the feeling that it is unloved and run down. You pass the odd rusted bicycle that’s been pulled from the water and left on the side of the tow path. But there’s a sense that once this must have been a place where things happened and were made on a large scale.
On arriving I sign in and wander round to the hall where the Boccia competition is taking place. Things are just about to start and there’s a happy but serious vibe in the building. I’m situated in the “officials” room with all of the match referees. Just before competition starts they all have a briefing session and then file out onto the courts to over see play. All of the teams are ready to go. There’s a hush and pause before things kick off. The spirit here is amazing. The focus is all about what you can do and the possibilities. It’s about doing the best you can.
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Through out the day results come in from the courts. On the first day 26 individual competitions were run each needing separate results. On the final day Friday we only have four team competitions running and its a much easier job to keep up to speed with things. It’s important to make sure you stay focused as one mistake means that potentially that someone who should have won a medal misses out. Towards the end of the day it becomes manic as the awards ceremonies approach. There’s a glitch in the system that means everything has to be produced by hand and I rush to get everything together and so that I can hand it over to Rachel the competition manager for final checking.
In the hall there’s a level of expectation and excitement as the medals are about to be handed out. Many of the athletes are unaware of whether they have won or not, which makes the celebrations when the results are read out all the more jubilant. I feel very emotional and inspired to make sure that I take some of the positive energy with me and to remind myself that I can do anything that I want if I set my mind to it. It’s all about being able, rather than dis-able.