Athletes leave Special Olympics with medals and memories

Bocce athlete inspired to victory by mother’s recent death as games come to close

A Special Olympics athlete was inspired by her late mother to secure a gold medal for her team mates, less than a month after her death.

Maria Quigley from Mountbellew in Co Galway secured the win for Team Connacht in the bocce competition at the University of Limerick.

The 26-year-old’s father Tommy was overcome with emotion as he spoke with pride about his only child insisting, despite the sudden loss of his wife last month, they wouldn’t have missed the national games.

“It was very emotional for us when she won. Her mother Bridie had it all arranged for us to go... but I was going to come for Bridie anyway because she had everything planned,” Mr Quigley said.

"When she won the silver first, she said 'gold is next Dad but I'll have to play dirty!' She was three down and it was like winning an All-Ireland. A final is a final no matter what you are in. We are all so proud," he added.

Maria, who is looking forward to the homecoming celebrations tonight said:

“They played by favourite song ‘Galway Girl’ after I won, it was brilliant.”

After three action-packed days, Special Olympics Ireland 2014 is drawing to a close today, but the legacy and impact of the games will continue far beyond the weekend in Limerick.

It was an extra special Father’s Day for many of the proud Dads watching their children compete in the 14 different sports at venues across Limerick city and the wider region.

Some 1,500 athletes have taken part in this year’s event supported by more than 3,000 volunteers and 600 coaches.

Out of these games, 100 athletes will be chosen to represent Team Ireland at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles next year.

Cork man Billy Walsh was thrilled when his daughter Margaret (21) won two gold medals and three silver medals for gymnastics, representing Team Munster.

“It is always a thrill to get out with Margaret but this is certainly a very special Father’s Day,” said Mr Walsh, hugging his youngest child.

A native of Middleton in Co Cork, Margaret was “over the moon” with her medals and was among the athletes getting their photos taken with the Liam McCarthy and Sam Maguire Cups which were brought to UL for the occasion.

“It was very heavy but it was nice to life it,” said Margaret after lifting the Liam McCarthy.

The youngest of four children, Margaret was also supported at the games by her mother Margaret.

"It is great to have her taking part in all of this. We were in Shanghai in 2007 where she won two golds and three ribbons and we will keep our fingers crossed for LA."

Speaking about the birth of her daughter, who has Down Syndrome, Ms Walsh said:

“If you got a more positive outlook when they are born it would be so much better, I mean who would have thought we would be going to Shanghai...There needs to be more positivity.”

Another proud and emotional father was Jerry Campion from Dunshaughlin in Co Meath who fought back tears after his daughter Deirdre won a gold medal in the 25m relay swim:

“It is a big day for us. It’s hugely emotional because she didn’t too well in her other swims but to do well today is just great. She couldn’t have done better... on Father’s Day it is a great present for me.”

Colemen McDonagh from Ennis in Co Clare was celebrating with his 23-year-old son Owen who, despite it being his first ever time competing, secured a gold medal for the shot put.

“We haven’t got over it yet... I’m so proud of him. We didn’t expect it. We thought he might be second. It is his first time ever competing,” said Mr McDonagh.

Owen has just finished his first year studying History and Media in Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

“Special Olympics has been fantastic for Owen, he went to school in mainstream education so he never mixed with anyone with special needs until he became involved with Special Olympics. It’s fantastic for his health and keeping fit but also great for his confidence and for his social life as well,” said his mother Maura.

Speaking as the games came to a close, cheif executive of Special Olympics Ireland Matt English said the most important thing is that there is a strong legacy from the games.

“We want to make sure that after this we keep Special Olympics strong because there are 1,500 athletes participated in the games here but there are 10,000 athletes that are training week in week out and I think its important that people realise that we need never to get complacent about Special Olympics.

“We need to make sure that every new athlete that joins the programme their lives will be changed they will get to experience hopefully a life-long involvement, because Special Olympics have athletes here today the youngest was 8 and the oldest was 77. It is life-long.”

He also praised the 120 health professionals, including opticians, dentist, podiatrists and dieticians, who were on hand to give out expert free advice to athletes, who availed of full eye tests and were given perscriptions for new glasses and goggles free of charge.