November 5, 2013
Between the gold medals, rally cries and fierce competition, WA Special Olympics athletes just want to have a good time.
Last month, Pinjarra, an hour’s drive south of Perth, hosted the Western Australian Special Olympics.
Special needs athletes from WA and Victoria came to compete in everything from athletics to equestrian events.
Special Olympics is an international organisation providing sporting competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
The WA branch is in its 22nd year, with more than 900 participating members this year.
WA Manager for Special Olympics, Di Bruce, said the Pinjarra games were not about the elite sporting culture that dominated events like the Paralympics.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re playing sport, as long as you’re playing,” Mrs Bruce said.
But she said that did not mean medals were not important.
“For some, it’s the next step to representing their state or their country,” she said.
“For others, the gold medal isn’t important for the big picture, but it’s important for themselves.
“I’ve seen on many occasions [the competitors] swap medals – ‘If you don’t have a gold, I’ve got two gold, you have one of mine’.
“It doesn’t actually mean what you and I think about a gold medal.
“It’s generally not about winning.”
Special olympics basketballer, Britta, 14, who was bandaged all over her arms and legs from trip ups, said the Western Australian Special Olympics were about sticking together.
“We don’t care if we win,” she said.
“We’re always keeping each other safe and we got each others’ back.”
Basketball referee Brannon Heath said he had never seen more committed players anywhere.
“It’s inspirational stuff,” he said.
“Some of [the competitors] seem very tired, very out of it, but then they get on the court and it’s like, I don’t know, some part of their brain just kicks in and they go for it.
“But there’s no animosity between players.
“It’s just a really great atmosphere.”
Football West Inclusive Development Officer Gordon Duus said special needs sport had made fantastic progress in the past few years.
“Unfortunately for a while our sport, like many others, had been somewhat exclusive and difficult for people to access,” Mr Duus said.
Mr Duus said the players had grown in skills and ability as well as basic confidence since they started playing football.
“It’s great to be turning a person who is generally inactive, maybe sitting in front of the couch, has a bit of a gut growing, to someone who has a healthy outlook on life, who wants to achieve a greater goal every time they’re out on the field,” he said.
Free health checks were also given to athletes by a veritable army of volunteer medical professionals and students.
New Zealand audiologist Jeanine Doherty said people with intellectual disabilities were particularly prone to dental and ear problems due to a high chance of malformed skull development.
Dr Doherty volunteers for Special Olympics internationally, taking vacation time and paying her own way to competitions in Belgium, Korea and China.
She brought her own equipment to Western Australia to help during the state games.
“We actually had quite a few hearing aid referrals by the end there,” she said.
“That’s really cool.
“It means we’ve found the right people.”
Special needs dentist Kerrie Punshon said the Special Olympics was a great experience for both the volunteers and athletes.
“It’s to break down barriers for the athletes, but it’s also breaking down barriers for the [medical] profession because it exposes people to working with special needs in a very non-threatening sort of way,” Dr Punshon said.