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The Rise Of Special Olympics Ireland

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November 25th 1963, the eyes of the world are firmly fixed on Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. A heroic figure has been cut down in his prime. A 42 year old woman stands idly by as she watches her brother lowered into the ground. Amidst the backdrop of her sibling’s successes, it is now her time to create some history of her own.

One year prior to the death of her brother Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a vision. She invited young people with intellectual disabilities to a day camp in her own back garden, sowing the seeds for the foundation of the Special Olympics – an organisation that would grow into a global movement and change the lives of millions. Eunice, saw opportunity where others saw barriers, and despite the personal tragedies that encapsulated her family she battled valiantly and secured a brighter future for all those born with intellectual disabilities.

Fast forward to today and three million athletes in more than 180 countries around the world benefit from being involved with Special Olympics, with Ireland quickly developing into one of the key nations within the sport.

The vision of Eunice Kennedy Shriver arrived in the home of her Irish ancestors when Special Olympics Ireland was founded in 1978. Since then the organisation has grown significantly and today has approximately 10,500 athletes participating in 15 sports in 397 Clubs throughout the country. They are supported by a network of more than 25,000 volunteers, making Special Olympics one of the largest voluntary organisations in Ireland.

Currently Special Olympics Ireland offers the following sports for people with intellectual disabilities: Alpine Skiing, Aquatics, Athletics, Badminton, Basketball, Bocce, Bowling, Equestrian, Floorball, Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Kayaking, Pitch & Putt and Table Tennis.

This summer, 1,500 of those athletes will converge on Limerick for the 2014 Special Olympics Ireland Games, which will be held from Thursday June 12th until Sunday June 15th.

Thirteen of the aforementioned sports will be on show as University Of Limerick opens their doors to the sporting nation. Additionally a non-competitive Motor Activities Training Programme will also be offered as part of the games which is among the most prestigious sporting events in Ireland this year.

The benefits of participating in Special Olympics extend far beyond the physical benefits of sport as it promotes team spirit, friendships and fun. It creates a strong sense of community and changes lives in many different ways, allowing for personal and physical development of people with an intellectual disability.

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In Focus: Lucan Special Olympics Club

The Special Olympics Eastern Region (encompassing Dublin, East Kildare, East Wicklow) alone provides year round sports training and competition to over 2,300 people with an intellectual disability.

Lucan Special Olympics Club is just one of the many clubs within the region who are hoping to have a successful outing at the games. The club, formerly known as the Lucan Hedgehogs, will be sending ten athletes to the games, with eight participating in Basketball and two in Bocce. The club currently cater for the two sports but are in the process of adding a third, with Floorball soon to be introduced on a trial basis.

The club was established following the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games which saw 21 sports contested in Dublin. Lucan played host to Team Ireland during the historical games, the first ever to be contested outside of America. In the aftermath of the games some of the original host town committee remained on and formed the committee for Lucan Special Olympics, encouraged by the nationwide appraisal of the games.

The club originally began with Basketball, introducing Bocce in 2008. The club grew quickly and now athletes aged between six and upwards from the local area are eligible to don the Lucan crest.

In 2006 the club were dealt a blow when founding committee member and Green party councillor Fintan McCarthy was killed in a tragic road accident alongside his girlfriend Sonya Rabbitte in China. In his passing Fintan ensured that the cause that was close to his heart remained steadfast. Since his untimely death the club have sought to keep his memory etched in their activities and in doing so they invite local Special Olympics clubs to compete in an annual Basketball tournament in their memory.

Lucan rose to prominence in 2007 when Gerard O’Regan was chosen to represent Team Ireland Basketball team for the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai. The Lucan man who trains with the club returned home with a silver medal for his efforts.

The club’s decision to add Bocce to their activities has been a great success. In June 2011, Lucan hosted the Team Ireland Bocce team in a challenge match before they headed to Athens for the Special Olympics World Summer Games. Lucan would add another medal to their improving haul at the games as Simon Darragh who trains with the club took home a gold medal in the men’s singles event. Lucan Special Olympics Club will be hoping that the addition of Floorball, a cross between hockey and uni-hoc, will lead to equally significant results.

Club members are eagerly anticipating this year’s games as they seek to further establish the development of both their club and athletes.

VickiCasserly_SkySmallSpeaking about the impact the club has had on the area, Fine Gael 2014 local election candidate Vicki Casserly said “Special Olympics is an organisation set up which offers weekly training across a variety of sports and the opportunity to compete for participants looking and willing to do so. The emphasis of the club is to participate and assist each and every athlete to achieve their personal best in an inclusive environment.

Lucan Special Olympics is one of the few sports club specifically set up in our area for individuals with an intellectual disability. It also acts as a social club for participants, parents/carers/guardians which gives each and every participant and volunteer an opportunity to develop a network to promote social integration and inclusion.

Within Lucan, Special Olympics is so important to our community as it allows children and adults an equal opportunity to participate in sport which is turn promotes independence and most importantly choice within our area to take part in a physical activity.

Irrespective of ability, each and every member of our Lucan Community should have equal opportunity to seek a recreational sport to be involved in. Lucan Special Olympics offers this involvement which promotes an active process of strengthening a sense of belonging to an individual and group to our community. It strongly enhances the process of integration which in turn promotes an inclusive environment which reduces marginalisation of what can be viewed minority groups.  Being part of this club promotes maximum participation through education of sport, awareness and accessibility within our community and most importantly encourages equality in the Lucan Sporting Community.

Lucan is hugely supportive of getting behind our sporting clubs and individuals when competing at any event.

It is important and imperative for Special Olympics Lucan that we, the Lucan Community do not look at Special Olympics as the perceived institution it has sometimes been portrayed and look on our Lucan Special Olympics Team with pride and offer equal support and gusto as we do for every other club in our village.”

For more information on Lucan Special Olympics visit

Website: http://lucanhedgehogs.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lucan-Hedgehogs-Special-Olympics-Club/140696169305936

Twitter: @lucanhedgehogs

Images courtesy of SpecialOlympics.ie, LucanHedgehogs.com and Vicki Casserly. 

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