Three Warkworth athletes are preparing for the Special Olympics four-day games in Hamilton in December. More than 1300 athletes, 450 coaches and up to 600 volunteers will come from around the country to compete across eight venues.
Grace Roberts, 15, has been training for six years for this moment. She swims at the Mahurangi College pool during the week and the Stanmore Bay Leisure Centre on weekends.
Athletes have to qualify for the games, which are held once every four years. Roberts recently won silver at a two-day competition in the Bay of Islands and has been attending events as far away as Te Awamutu.
She says attending a national level event for disabled people creates the opportunity to build self-confidence and meet new friends.
“It’s about allowing anybody of any ability to compete and find their place in the world.”
Just like the Tokyo Olympics, athletes have to live in an Olympic village and be self-reliant for the duration of the games.
Hepburn Creek equestrian Gabriel Pring, 13, has been training with Hillcroft Equestrian Coaching.
His mother Charlotte says it is amazing for him to be able to compete because people with disabilities aren’t usually able to be a part of sport clubs.
“Putting a child with intellectual disabilities with nondisabled people can be hugely overwhelming.”
She says that the Special Olympics value what every athlete can bring to the field and allows disabled people to develop their skills.
“He can win medals and trophies like other young people.”
Kevin Webb, who lives in LIFE homes for people with intellectual disabilities in Warkworth, is attending the games for the second time – this time competing in 10 pin bowling.
He took up the sport two years ago and is pleased to be able to return to the games at age 56.
He last competed at a Special Olympics in Whangarei eight years ago, when he played indoor bowls, which he now describes as a “young man’s game”.
Webb says what he likes about the games is the atmosphere where fellow competitors encourage each other.
“We all have different disabilities and we all just want each other to do our best.”
He says he will be proud to represent his Whangaparaoa bowling club, whether he wins or loses.
Special Olympics athletes have to pay their own way to the games. The Warkworth Quilting Club has donated a quilt, chosen by Grace Roberts, to be auctioned to help raise funds. Anyone who would like to support the Warkworth athletes can bid at: www.trademe.co.nz/a/marketplace/crafts/quilting/other/listing/3236512784
A group of athletes from Rodney and Hibiscus Coast have also started a Givealittle page: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/special-olympics-hibiscus-coast?