For James Farrell everything was rolling along just fine through primary and intermediate schools after he moved with his family from Dunedin to Hawke's Bay as a youngster.
But growing up was about to become a jarring experience for Farrell, who had a hole in the heart at birth but had surgery to fix the complication while still in his childhood.
"When I went to high school there was sort of more bullying," says the now 40-year-old from Napier who had learning difficulties.
It was there that it dawned on Farrell he was different because he attended special needs classes.
Feeling down, he quite often discussed his experiences with his parents, mother Adrienne and father, the late Peter Farrell, who had moved to Napier to work.
"They probably don't realise what people go through," says Farrell who is a swimmer among a contingent of 62 Hawke's Bay Special Olympians competing at the National Summer Games in Wellington from Sunday, November 26, to December 2.
The Bay team have worked tirelessly to raise $68,000 for the games, which are staged every four years. With athletes forking out $22,000, Special Olympics HB has received $43,000 towards also helping fund the cost of 20 coaches and supervisors.
"So we're nearly there but we still have about $3000 to raise so that the athletes do not have to pay any more," says Special Olympics HB spokeswoman Margaret Baker.
Farrell has sat a global messenger course at the Special Olympics NZ head office which gives him the licence to visit businesses to make sponsorship pitches to secure funds.
"It's been quite good," he says, pleased to have contacted Labour parliamentarian Stuart Nash via Facebook video and also got some air time on Radio Kidnappers through an interview.
"We need businesses and people to help us because we're a non-funded organisation," says Farrell, who works 30 hours a week as a groundsman at Lindisfarne College in Hastings.
"I have a full driver's licence so I am able to go to work every Monday to Friday."
But he hastens to add that many teammates are still at school or not working.
Farrell has been a Special Olympics HB representative for 16 years, starting in his early 20s.
What he couldn't find at high school Farrell eventually realised at the Riding for Disabled School at Meeanee in 1999.
"It was good because I enjoyed riding the horses and made quite a few friends out there."
He started as a volunteer before some of the staff members encouraged him to take riding more seriously.
That fuelled his passion all the way to the Ireland Special Olympics World Games in 2003 from where he returned with three gold medals in dressage, equitation and trail riding on a borrowed horse.
Not done, he also took up golf, soccer and swimming.
Farrell started with a 28 handicap and plays once a week as a member of Napier Golf Club but with intense swimming training for the games next month he has put golf on the backburner.
Remarkably he only took up competitive swimming a shade more than a year ago to boost his fitness.
He didn't find water daunting because he had frequented the Onekawa pools as a child where 1976 Montreal Olympian John Coutts coached him.
In Wellington, Farrell will be competing in the 50m and 100m freestyle event, the 50m backstroke and team relay races at his fifth nationals.
At the last nationals, in Dunedin in 2013, he build a good friendship with Auckland swimmer Ella Sharpels and was delighted to see her again at the Transtasman Games in Hamilton in November last year.
Special Olympics HB provides year-round training and competition in a variety of codes for all ages, with intellectual disability.
Its goal is to create ongoing opportunities with development of physical fitness and social acceptance to demonstrate courage.
"For a lot of the team this will be the highest level they can compete because they are unable to travel overseas or they may not be selected in a New Zealand team," says Baker.
It costs $770 for each athlete to register. It covers all costs, including opening and closing ceremonies, accommodation, meals, venue hire, equipment hire, medals and ribbons.
The registration cost also applies to the coaches/supervisors who give their time voluntarily and use their holiday allocations.
"We do not feel we should ask the supervisor to pay nor do we feel the athletes should cover this amount,"' she says, revealing it'll also cost $8600 to cover bus travel.
Athletes are paying a minimum of $400 but if there is a shortfall they could end up paying up to $1000 to attend.
More than 7000 children and adults, with the support of 1300 volunteers, take part in Special Olympics in New Zealand.
The national body offers 14 different Olympic-type summer and winter codes throughout the country through 44 Special Olympics clubs.
Each year it holds more than 200 centre, regional, national and international events throughout the country.
It also offers athletes leadership development through its Athlete Leadership Programme, health screening via Healthy Athletes®, and encourages social inclusion through Unified Sports®, where intellectually disabled athletes are combined in teams with unified partners (without intellectual disabilities).