The biggest Special Olympics Te Awamutu team yet to compete at nationals has recently been named and training is already well under way.
This year's Freemasons New Zealand Special Olympics National Summer Games is taking place in Hamilton across four days and eight venues in December.
"We've got the biggest team ever because the nationals are on our front door," says Te Awamutu Special Olympics head coach Shelley Blair.
Twenty-three athletes have been selected to be a part of the Te Awamutu team this year and they'll all be competing in the swimming events.
Team members Aimee McLachlan, Ben Chisnall, Caitlin Thomas, Kate Elliot, Kathleen Bayer, Keziah Clark, Melissa Wise, Stevie Cook and Sven Brasler will be make their nationals debut.
"I'm really proud to be swimming for Special Olympics Te Awamutu at my first National Summer Games. I'm hoping to swim faster than I ever have before," says Kate.
All of the other team members have competed at nationals at least once already.
They include Brittany Edwards, David Smith, Ella Yarndley, Emily Sanson, Jarrod Gilbert, Jennifer Clark, Katie Townsend, Matthew Smith, Peter Crawford, Sarah Griffin, Sarah-Jane Hudson and Portia Johnson who competed at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
"Special Olympics Te Awamutu have given me loads of opportunities, like being selected to swim at the National Summer Games, the trans-Tasman event competing against Australian teams, being a Global Messenger, I was most improved female swimmer of the year, sportsperson of the year and the most important opportunity the team gave me was to represent Te Awamutu and New Zealand at the World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi," says Portia.
There are two team members this year who have been competing with the team since it started going to nationals in 2009: Deshan Walallavita – who also competed in Abu Dhabi at the World Games - and Robert van der Wee, and they have competed at every nationals since.
All the team members recently competed at a two-day swim event in Hamilton and Palmerston North to qualify for the National Summer Games.
"The results were outstanding," says Shelley.
They have started training, once a week and independently, but to increase their fitness levels to cope with the four-day event Shelley says they will be increasing training soon.
Shelley says with such a big team this year they are fortunate to have a committed bunch of volunteers.
The competition will bring over 1300 athletes, 450 coaches and up to 600 volunteers from throughout New Zealand.