9th October 2019
Well it’s been quite a whirlwind of a few weeks since my last blog. I’ve been in Scotland and Birmingham, we’ve had a mention on BBC ONE, I’ve had some very exciting meetings planning for a wonderful future for our athletes and I’ve also attempted to take a few days off to sleep!
I am still buzzing after the weekend, where I was privileged to spend time with some of our skiers in Birmingham. My absolute favourite bit of my job is when I get to spend quality time with our athletes. It makes all the hard work behind the scenes and all the stress that comes with transforming an organisation with limited resource, worth it. The wonderful Candy Wragg invited me along to this event months ago and I was very excited to get my first experience of Special Olympics winter sports. I received the most wonderful warm welcome in Birmingham, and it was great to meet volunteers and family members who I have met previously on my travels across the regions, as well as new friends from the regions. The West Midlands Ski Race Day was awesome and I would like to congratulate Candy and ALL the team who work tirelessly to ensure our athletes have the best experience. I spoke to many volunteers who had come through our corporate partnerships, including two who’ve remained involved for many years after starting as National Grid volunteers. As we like to say in the Special Olympics family, once you see it you believe it, and once you’re in, you’re IN!
It is interesting that those who come to us initially as volunteers from our corporate partners, talk about being nervous about what to expect as they’ve not always had direct experience with people with an intellectual disability. They talk about it as the fear of the unknown. But ALL without exception talk about the transformative effect it has had on them and how previous perceptions have been smashed. Many fall in love with our work and continue to volunteer and support many years later. The family unit is so strong and people make lifelong friendships as a result of Special Olympics GB, and so the effect of our work reaches so much further.
I always love meeting our athletes, and it was great to catch up with Katie and Fleur who sit on our Athlete Input Council. Katie told me that Special Olympics GB has completely transformed her life. She said he has now found her voice. Katie said she always knew that there was a voice inside that was waiting to be heard and being involved in the Athlete Input Council had helped her find that voice, and now there is no stopping her!
There were dance offs, flossing (the dance, not the teeth variety!) and I was even treated to some singing. James told me he had completed his BSL Sign Language course and taught me how to sign ‘Special Olympics’ – which we posted on our twitter page. James spent a long time talking to me and said that before Special Olympics GB, he hated his intellectual disability. He said now he is proud that he has turned his disability into an ABILITY. Go James! This is why I still maintain I have THE best job in sport.
The medal ceremony was brilliant, and once I worked out which medal was which, we all joined in cheering all the athletes who had done themselves and their families proud, and most of all, had a whole heap on fun on the way. Congratulations to all involved in such a wonderful day. All are really looking forward to our National Winter Games in Crans Montana early next year, and I am really looking forward to experiencing my first winter games. I have asked Katie and Fleur to give me some ski lessons before that though! I am a rubbish skier! We are committed to ensuring that moving forward our winter games athletes get a similar level of support as those who compete in the summer games.
I spent a few really productive days in Scotland, where Laura Baxter and I met with Scottish Disability Sport, Scottish Sporting Alliance and Sport Scotland. All were really positive and productive meetings. We also got the chance to spend some time with Laura Smith, the Chair of Special Olympics Scotland and with Denise and Gordon from Scotland West. It was a whistle-stop few days between Edinburgh, Perth and Glasgow, but we are really confident about the further growth of SOGB in Scotland with great support from the governing bodies.
We welcomed the new Chair of the English National Council, Andy Baker, to the office. Andy spent a day with the team in London and it was great to exchange ideas about how we can continue to develop the regions across England.
A huge thanks to all those who have completed their Accreditation. We are looking to simplify all processes over the next 12 months. We realise as volunteers, you are all busy enough, so we want to make things as simple and easy as possible. We are always open to ideas of how we can improve and simplify, so please get in touch with your country reps.
We’ve been working hard with SO Israel on an opportunity that has been presented to us to take a unified football team over to Tel Aviv in November, to coincide with the London-Tel Aviv festival. We will share more information in due course.
On Friday, I was invited to meet a chap who had flown in from the USA and was in London for one day. He was keen to meet with me to talk about some very exciting ideas he and his team have about supporting us here in GB. I can’t say too much at the moment, but this has amazing potential, and if you love cars you will be even more excited!
And finally, our lovely Ambassador Catherine Tyldesley continues to do us proud on Strictly Come Dancing. We continue to receive amazing video messages from our athletes, and one of these was shown on BBC ONE’s It Takes Two show! Lizzie, Ellie-Bea, Caroline and Jennifer recorded a message for Cath and JoJo from Slovakia where they were competing in a European Championship. Cath loved the message and so did the BBC, so they asked if they could show it and the girls were very excited and quickly agreed! Keep sending your messages through for Cath and JoJo. We send them all to her and she LOVES them!
I could go on, but I will close for now. I just want to finish by saying a huge thank you to the army of volunteers and families across the whole of Great Britain who work tirelessly for our athletes. It is very much appreciated. And to our athletes who continue to inspire me with their courage, bravery, humour and dedication – you rock! Keep up the amazing work.