Ireland's hosting of the World Games 10 years ago may have garnered massive media attention but Special Olympics Ireland had been working away quietly for many years before that, running a year-long programme of activities.
Today we have almost 11,000 registered athletes in more than 400 affiliated groups throughout the island of Ireland. These athletes are supported by their families and a team of 25,000 volunteers who help out at sporting and fundraising events.
15 sports on offer
Special Olympics Ireland currently offers 15 sports as well as a motor activities training programme which helps develop motor skills. The sports programme includes everything from alpine skiing to table tennis, aquatics to pitch and putt. We work closely with the national governing bodies for sport to ensure they provide quality sports coaching and competition for their athletes.
Special Olympics is different from other sports organisations because athletes of all ability levels are encouraged to participate and they are all recognised for their performance. We use divisioning, where athletes compete with other athletes of similar ability.
Special Olympics also runs the athlete leadership programme which helps athletes to become socially and personally more confident, find their voice and get involved in the Special Olympics movement and in their own communities.
The health service offers a number of programmes to help keep all our athletes healthy. The healthy athlete programme provides a variety of health screenings and services in a welcoming and fun environment.
As you can see, Special Olympics is about much more than sport. It gives dignity and self-confidence to the athletes. They make life-long friends. They become healthier. They inspire each other. They inspire their coaches. They inspire their family members and they inspire their many fans. They are rightfully local heroes and in some cases they are national heroes.
Special Olympics Ireland needs the help from the public to succeed. It needs people and finance. It needs volunteers and funding. Special Olympics will succeed and will not stop until every person on the island of Ireland who has an intellectual disability has the opportunity to participate in a sport or developmental activity of their choice in their local community. To find out more about Special Olympics visit specialolympics.ie or go to the Facebook page or follow on Twitter @SOIreland.
is chief executive of Special Olympics Ireland