Christmas came early for the Special Olympics Te Awamutu team heading to the Howick Pakuranga complex for a swim meet this month.
Special Olympics Te Awamutu received a huge donation from LJ Hooker, supplemented by Ken and Heather Hagan — a Toyota Hi Ace 12 seater van.
The club is still growing, so travelling together as team has become challenging for some time. The club did not have its own van and had been able to borrow one from Enrich+ and the Bible Chapel.
"After initially being approached by Ross Collins regarding raising funds, we decided to purchase the van outright from some surplus funds from LJ Hooker Home Expo and Heather and myself," said Ken Hagan.
"The Special Olympics Te Awamutu club has the van, fully equipped with luggage space at the rear and air-conditioning etc, at their complete disposal as they require.
"I know that the team at LJ Hooker are excited and proud to be able support Special Olympics Te Awamutu and look forward to following their progress."
Ken said after attending Special Olympics Te Awamutu's fundraising events, he and his wife have always come away feeling humbled by the support and time that others give in many different ways.
"That coupled with the marvellous attitude of the athletes and the sheer hard work they put in, it wasn't a hard decision to make to get in behind them."
The trip to the swim meet in Auckland will be the first time the van will be seen travelling sign-written.
"I believe it will be making a 'statement' that LJ Hooker has made it happen," Special Olympics Te Awamutu head coach Shelley Blair said.
"LJ Hooker and Special Olympics Te Awamutu are very community orientated so the partnership between both parties is a great fit.
"LJ Hooker's values of passion, persistence, integrity, knowledge and team work are not dissimilar to Special Olympics — sportsmanship, athlete leadership, unity, bravery and perseverance and a commitment to inclusion, respect and dignity."
The van builds on and reinforces these values.
The paintwork on the left-hand side of the van features New Zealand Special Olympics team swimmers Unity Collins, Portia Johnson and Deshan Walallavita with their medals at Livingstone Aquatics, Te Awamutu Events Centre, on their return from the World Games in Dubai earlier this year. It symbolises what can be achieved through training with the support of a club environment, families and caregivers.
Featured on the right hand side of the van is Deshan Walallavita on the dive block, symbolising 'ready, set, go' — 'Give It A Go'.
"The athletes are so passionate about belonging to our club and wanting to be the best they can be," Blair said.
"Special Olympics changes lives. Special Olympics is first and foremost a sports organisation for people with an intellectual disability, but it provides athletes with far more than the physical benefits of sport.
"It's about fun, friendships and team spirit; it's about a feeling of belonging, and ultimately improving quality of life. Through sport, athletes develop both physically and emotionally. They make new friends, realise their dreams and feel a sense of belonging."
Blair said Special Olympics enables athletes to achieve and win, not only in sport but in life too.
The Special Olympics motto is "Let me win, but if I can't win, let me be brave in the attempt".
There is no doubting that the arrival of the van has lifted the athletes' spirits to an even higher level in their quest to achieve in all walks of life.