THE Special Olympics were held in Wellington last weekend, with around 1300 athletes competing in different sports — swimming, athletics, basketball, bocce, equestrian, football, golf, indoor bowls, powerlifting and ten pin bowling.
They are held every four years and it is New Zealand's largest event for people with intellectual disabilities.
The Special Olympics were contested at various venues throughout the greater Wellington region with the athletes supported by thousands more coaches, management staff, friends and family and a raft of volunteers who ensured the biggest games to date were a huge success.
I have had a long involvement with this very special organisation and am currently the chair of the Special Olympics board, a role I held before I entered Parliament in 2011 and one that remains close to my heart.
Special Olympics essentially comprises 41 Special Olympics clubs scattered throughout the country. Three schools also competed at this year's event.
All of the clubs are volunteer run and rely on donations and corporate support to provide the year-long training and competition programmes they offer to athletes with intellectual disabilities.
All the sports training and competition opportunities are provided to athletes at minimal cost — there are no entry fees and clubs build partnerships with local businesses to help meet their costs.
In my experience this quickly develops into a win-win relationship with businesses involved reporting their involvement with Special Olympics boosts staff morale as well as their organisation's profile and credibility in their local community.
National Party leader Bill English and our spokeswoman for disability issues Nicky Wagner got in on the action last Thursday and enjoyed meeting some of the athletes and watching them perform. Nicky Wagner commented that "the athletes involved showed great courage, strength and perseverance and are an inspiration to us all".
As well as being an opportunity to compete with athletes from around the country, these summer games is also a time for athletes to connect with their Special Olympic friends; and it's a great way to promote understanding about people with intellectual disabilities in our communities, too.
While these games were definitely about competing, they were also about fun, friendships and team spirit, providing a feeling of belonging to all of the athletes and volunteers, which ultimately will help improve their quality of life.
One in four New Zealanders has some form of disability. It is important we support and encourage the families, friends and communities affected by disabilities and ensure that they are included, visible and valued.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of the athletes and their families, friends and support people as well as the coaches, volunteers and corporate and private sponsors who helped to make the 2017 Special Olympics New Zealand Summer Games such a great success.
If you would like to get involved in this very special organisation there is plenty of information available on the website www.specialolympics.org.nz
Ian McKelvie is the Member of Parliament for Rangitikei