June 2010 saw the Special Olympics Irish Games come to Limerick. The Special Olympics is a sporting organisation for people who have intellectual disabilities.
The Games opened on Wedneday June 9th with a fantastic Opening Ceremony with performances from the Cranbeerries, Supermodel Twins, the Heathers and more.
For the next four days, 1,900 athletes from 5 region (Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Connaught and Eastern) took part in several events across eight venues. Swimming, basketball, soccer, kayaking and athletics took place in the University of Limerick. Table Tennis, Badminton and the Motor Activities Training Programme (MATP) took place in Mary Imaculete College. Pitch and Putt took place in the Murroe Pitch and Putt club while the Limerick Golf Club hosted the Golf events. The equestrian activities took place in Clonshire and the Booce was held at the Limerick Race Course. The Bowling was split between Funworld on the Ennis Road and Leisure World in Ennis.
In addition to the events, there were several side events throughout the Games. The "Special Olympics Town" was set up in UL and had two sections- a fun area (with games, music and facepainting) and a Healthy Athlete Area where athletes could get check ups for their eyes, teeth, stance, eating and weight. There was also several performances by local entertainers. I got to see a performance of the Sicilian Musical Society from their upcoming show "The Wiz". During a break in the performance, an improteau dance involving hundreds of athletes, volunteers and family members. One member of the Society describe it as "pretty amazing and fun and inspiring for us".
I got the pleasure of attending the Games in UL as a photographer. The one thing that stood out for me was the incredible enthuasism from the volunteers, family members, coaches, judges and, especially, the athletes themselves. Words cannot describe the experience of meeting the athletes. Many of the athletes came up to me when they saw the camera. They loved posing for photographs or even just saying hello and telling someone about what events they took part in. Even watching the events and seeing how even a little encouragement from the crowd or their fellow athletes truely spurred on the athletes to push themselves.
I got to speak to some of the volunteers over the course of a few days and they all describe it as a "life changing experience".
For more information about the great work of the Special Olympics log onto www.SpecialOlympics.ie. To check out the rest of my photos from the event click here