SPORT brings people together. Every week, scores of young people from Carlow and beyond practice with Carlow Special Olympics.
In Carlow they are bowling every Friday night, while they also hold basketball training every Tuesday evening in Presentation College, Carlow among other places.
If you were to mention Special Olympics to most people in Ireland they immediately say “Oh, I remember when the games were here in 2003. When are they coming back?”
The answer to that question is that Special Olympics is ongoing in most corners of Ireland. It does not have the glitz and publicity of the World Games in Croke Park, but every day, people with intellectual disabilities aged from eight to 80 participate in 15 different sports at all levels of ability with clubs and services throughout the country.
These athletes get the same benefit from sport as anyone else: health, teamwork, fitness, companionship, inclusion, sense of achievement, mental fitness and, most of all, fun.
The Nationalist joined the 40 or so athletes at a recent Friday bowling session in the Dome. There are strikes, spares, high-fives, joking and laughter. It’s good craic.
Stephen Ryan from Carlow has been coming to Carlow Special Olympics for two years.
“I enjoy the socialising. There is a great social aspect to it and I enjoy actually doing it, too,” said the 24-year-old.
Jamie Regan from Killeshin added: “It keeps me going, meeting new people. They’re good lads here, all sound. It’s also serious business, though. A lot of the bowlers have their own bowling ball with their own different techniques.”
“I found it hard initially, but I have my own bowling ball, so I definitely play better. It’s not as big and fits the fingers a bit easier,” said Stephen.
Some know as soon as the ball has left their hand whether they are looking at a sensational strike or a grim gutter ball.
Saoirse Keogh from Tullow joked: “If it slips from hand, I know it’s bad one. If it goes into gutter, I know it’s a really bad one!”
Carlow Special Olympics Club was formed in 2005, when the buzz of the 2003 World Games was still around. It started with one sport, ten-pin bowling, and less than 20 athlete members. The group has been training in the Dome in Carlow every Friday evening at 7pm since, then with just short summer breaks. Almost 60 athletes have registered to bowl, with more than 45 there on most Friday evenings. The standard of bowling would put most adults to shame.
Having started with just bowling in 2005, athletes now compete in five different sports. There is also a men’s basketball team, which has won the league in Leinster on two occasions over the past three years. There is a second basketball team just starting to play and they travelled to their first match in Drogheda recently. Then there’s an athletics group which trains in St Leo’s most weekends, while others also swim in Graiguecullen pool. Of course, the lads pestered the club to start a soccer team, too, as they all want to be Ronaldo, Messi or Robbie Keane, so that’s another sport.
Overall, there are 70 athletes on the books, with new people making contact all of the time. The club could not function without the help of its many volunteers, who give of their time every week. The club would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of each and every volunteer who has participated over the years.
As the club grows, it needs new volunteers. If you feel you can spare and hour or so each week, or even a couple of hours once a month, the club would love to hear from you. All volunteers must be registered with Special Olympics and be garda vetted. To inquire, contact any club member or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can call into the Dome on a Friday evening at 7pm or the Presentation College gym at 7pm on Tuesday evenings.