Athletes in 13 sports will come together to compete in the Ireland Games in Dublin.
ATHLETES FROM ACROSS the country are travelling to Dublin today as the four-day Special Olympics Ireland Games kicks off in venues across the capital.
President Michael D Higgins will welcome 1,600 athletes to Tallaght Stadium this evening for the opening ceremony.
Daniel Ryan, a longtime member of Lakers Social & Recreational Club in Bray, Co Wicklow, will be present but his focus will be on his first bowling match.
“It has been one of my favourite sports,” he told TheJournal.ie, explaining that he has been playing with his team since last year.
Lakers is one of the 320 clubs across Ireland involved in this week’s games.
In preparation for the games, Daniel said he “had to do a lot of training every week” at Bray Bowl Bowling Alley.
Although he believes he’s ready to compete, he said “it’s not about winning or losing” but more about “being there for each other, shoulder to shoulder”.
Daniel said that Special Olympics “changes people’s lives” as he likes being active and that sport is now a big part of his life.
There will be a focus on health at the Ireland Games over the weekend with an expansion of the Healthy Athlete screening programme which athletes can use in their downtime between competitions.
Rebecha McAuley is also a Lakers club member and will compete in badminton, which she “can’t wait” for.
It’s a “really big honour” to compete, she says, and her family will be in Dublin to support her.
The athletes selected from these games will go on to represent Team Ireland at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi in March 2019.
McAuley has these games in mind and told TheJournal.ie that getting to the next stage would be life-changing for her and she said, “It would make Ireland proud”.
Tonight, the athletes represent their five regions – Team Connacht, Team Ulster, Team Munster, Team Leinster and Team Eastern – will join in a parade with their 600 coaches and trainers.
Athletes with an intellectual disabilities will compete in athletics, gymnastics, badminton, kayaking, basketball, 10-pin bowling, football, golf, pitch and putt, swimming, equestrian and bocce (similar to lawn bowls and aimed at older athletes to encourage them to stay involved in sport as it is less athletically challenging).
Matt English of Special Olympics Ireland told TheJournal.ie that for athletes “it’s a dream to compete in the Ireland games” after qualifying from the local and regional stages.
Guaranteeing a ‘great atmosphere’, English is expecting about 8,000 people to attend but encouraged even more members of the public to make time to cheer the athletes on.
Tonight’s ceremony will see folk band Hudson Taylor perform, as well as singer Jake Carter, Ireland’s Got Talent Xquisite Dance Group and DJ John Gibbons.
The Special Olympic torch run made its tour of Ireland this week and the Flame of Hope will be lit from 6.30pm.
In 2003, Ireland hosted the World Games of Special Olympics and today the Special Olympics charity has 2,500 volunteers.
This year sees the Ireland Games hosted in Dublin for the first time since 2002.
English hopes young people will be inspired to take up a sport following this weekend. Special Olympics Ireland develop their introductory Young Athletes Programme for ages 4-7.
This week’s events will take place at Sport Ireland National Sports Campus, Blanchardstown; Morton Stadium, Santry; Leisureplex, Blanchardstown; Cherry Orchard Equestrian Centre; St Margarets Golf Club;Irish Wheelchair Association, Clontarf; Royal Meath Pitch and Putt Club; National Aquatics Centre; and Seapoint, Open Water Swimming.