A Volunteer’s Unforgettable Experience at the Special Olympics Ireland Games 2018

Fingal Libraries
by Fingal Libraries on June 20, 2018.

Special Olympics has opened up a whole new world to people with intellectual disabilities and has contributed to improving self-confidence, social competence, building greater athletic skills and higher self-esteem. When the opportunity arose to volunteer for the Special Olympics Ireland Games, I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of this very special and extraordinary experience. The Special Olympics Ireland […]

Matthew Brennan with his Gold medal for Team Connaught

Matthew Brennan with his Gold medal for Team Connaught

Special Olympics has opened up a whole new world to people with intellectual disabilities and has contributed to improving self-confidence, social competence, building greater athletic skills and higher self-esteem. When the opportunity arose to volunteer for the Special Olympics Ireland Games, I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of this very special and extraordinary experience.

The Special Olympics Ireland Games which ran from Thursday 14th June to Sunday 17th of June, was one of the biggest and prestigious sporting events in Ireland this year. With over 1600 inspiring Athletes completing in 13 sports and Motor Activities Training, it was 4 days of non-stop action for everyone involved.

The Games ran across multiple venues in Fingal, Dublin City, Kildare and Meath. I was based at the Sports Ireland National Sports Campus in Blanchardstown, a state of the art sports facility nestled in the heart of Fingal County.  The campus boasts an impressive array of world class facilities including the National Aquatic Centre, the National Indoor Arena which includes Gymnastics and Athletics training centres and a number of FAI  football pitches. There was new energy in the air as the National Sports Campus facilitated over 800 Athletes competing in 7 sports which included Aquatics, Badminton, Basketball, Bocce, Gymnastics, Football and MATP (Motor Activity Training Programme).  Unique to Special Olympics, the MATP focused on the development of important motor skills and is designed for athletes who have not yet gained the necessary skills for participation in structured sports training.

Noreen Buckley with some of Team Leinster -Kayaking

Noreen Buckley with some of Team Leinster Kayaking Team

My role was Event Services Assistant and I was one of a team of 30 who were responsible for the outside of the Sports Campus. We were scattered around the campus and our roles varied throughout the day and included greeting and welcoming the Athletes/Coaches, ensuring safety for all on the Campus, providing information and direction to all the events, responding to any emergencies and traffic management.  The Event Services Volunteers met at 7:15am every morning to be briefed by the Events Services Manager on the plans for the day and we were assigned radios in order to communicate with each other. Our days ended at 18:00 as the Games drew to a close and we were debriefed on how the day went and what improvements could be made.

There were many stand out moments for me over the course of the Games. One was meeting Matthew Brennan from Galway who proudly won a Gold Medal in Bocce (an Italian Game which is very similar to Lawn Bowls) from Team Connaught.  As part of the Special Olympics Town, there was a communal space for lunch which allowed for Athletes, Coaches and Volunteers to mingle.  I met Matthew as I sat down to have a bite to eat and I was charmed by his friendliness, enthusiasm and energy.  I also met the proud  Team Leinster Kayaking team who were chaperoned by a lovely friend of mine, Noreen Buckley. Another stand out moment was watching the Young Athletes Programme. This is a play and sport activity for children from 4 to 7 years with an intellectual disability. It introduces children to a wide range of play activities in a familiar, supportive and fun environment and introduces the fundamental movement skills such as throwing, catching, jumping and balancing. But most of all,  I will always remember the banter and camaraderie between the Volunteers, who went above and beyond to make this amazing event, fun and safe for everyone concerned.

Fellow Volunteers - Gerry & Evelyn

Fellow Volunteers – Gerry & Evelyn

It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and commitment for Athletes and their Coaches to prepare for the Ireland Games but their hard work paid off as 2,144 medals were awarded over the course of the four-day Games: 959 Gold, 667 Silver and 518 Bronze. The Ireland Games is in year three of Special Olympics Ireland’s four-year cycle with the World Summer Games being held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in March 2019.   I’m already waiting in anticipation to see how Team Ireland will perform. I’ve no doubt they will make Ireland very proud.

With the support of Fingal Libraries, Fingal County is a great place to volunteer. Volunteering enriches communities, gives volunteers an opportunity to develop personally, and puts giving at the heart of how we all live. If you’ve ever thought of volunteering and would like to get some advice or information, the Fingal Volunteer Centre  runs a  number of drop in sessions across Fingal Libraries.  We also provide lots of information on other organisations who require volunteers. Call into your local Fingal Library for further information and get that Volunteering bug!

 

By Úna Smyth, Swords Library