Special Olympics GB Volunteers and Parents - Jim and Adrienne Purdie share their story

Today, 1st June is the Global Day of Parents. It is also the start of Volunteers’ Week which runs from 1st - 7th June. So, who better to share their story than Jim and Adrienne Purdie, dedicated volunteers from Scotland’s Grampian Area club and parents to three children including their eldest Special Olympics GB athlete, Luke Purdie.

Both Special Olympic GB volunteers for more than 10 years in a variety of ways, from committee members to treasurer and trustees for their charity (Special Olympics Grampian Area), Jim and Adrienne not only help to run the club, but they were also part of the team that organised the hugely successful Special Olympics GB National Alpine Competition in Switzerland last year. And if that wasn’t enough, Adrienne is also part of the management team for the forthcoming Special Olympics World Winter Games which is due to take place in Kazan, Russia next January 2022.

Their Special Olympics GB story started after they saw an advert in their local paper looking for skiers to join their local club which they thought would work well for their son. Up until that point they had never heard of Special Olympics and the rest, as they say, is history. Shortly afterwards they started to volunteer for their local club.

Jim explains: “We got involved because we have a son who has a learning disability and then over the years you get to know the other families and their children who have learning difficulties. What you enjoy is the satisfaction of seeing all those athletes flourishing. But there are times when volunteering becomes a pressure, especially when we were doing the Nationals it became quite intense at times” he laughs.

“But that was just an amazing experience though,” adds Adrienne. “The moment where, we as a committee, stood on the slopes on that first day and it was actually happening, was just fantastic.”

While listening to Adrienne and Jim, there is one big over-riding sentiment that comes through from them both, and that is their immense pride in taking part, helping others and organising these big events. As Adrienne says: “It really pulls you together as a team and as a committee.”

“It reminds you of a running a marathon. When you’re doing it, you’re thinking, remind me never to do this again. But then once you’re finished, you get such a sense of satisfaction it’s not long before you start thinking, oh, I could do that again!” laughs Jim.

A recurring theme from our athletes and dedicated volunteers is that Special Olympics GB can feel like a family – which is apt considering it is the Global Day of Parents.

Adrienne explains: “I think in the winter sport side, which is smaller, it does feel like family. Because we’ve been doing it for 10 years you see the athletes at all the different competitions over the years. And that is what I’m loving about being involved in the World Winter Games, is that some of the athletes I first knew 10 years ago, and they are now going to a World Games. It’s great for the athletes, but you as a volunteer get so much out of it. You make the friendships, the sense of community.”

And that sense of community extends not only to the athletes but to other clubs within Special Olympics GB, all helping each other at various different points in their journeys. As Jim explains: “One of the big things that helped us was volunteers from other clubs taking an interest, in particular West Midlands. They saw we were new and went out of their way to integrate us and encourage us and show what was going on.”

“So, we replicated that. A few years ago, Dumfries and Galloway contacted us to say that they wanted to set up a ski group. So, we did what had been done to us and invited them to come and we met them in the Braehead Centre in Glasgow, and we got them integrated which was good.”

But it’s been during the last 12 months that the importance of our clubs and volunteers to our athletes has come into focus, as Adrienne explains:

“In Covid, because we were able to start in October, we were able to do a good block of activity from October to December, when for most of our athletes they weren’t able to do much else. Most things were online and to be able to give them that weekly focus, that they knew they were coming out to do their training and see their friends, it really did become a real lifeline to a lot of our athletes.”

“The athletes themselves and their parents were so excited to come back, when you see that, you realise it’s a key part of their week. You realise it’s worthwhile,” adds Jim.

And what would you say to others who are thinking of getting involved and volunteering with Special Olympics GB?

“That it’s just amazing!” answers Adrienne without hesitation!

“It will bring them into a world they’ve not been part of before and once they are in that world, they will get a tremendous sense of fulfilment from the good they are doing” adds Jim.

Adrienne continues: “You become part of the Special Olympics family and words can’t express what that means.”

But how do they find the time to juggle parenthood with volunteering?

“Being a parent of a child with an intellectual disability gives you a bigger driver because you can see your own child benefiting and how important it is. You’ve got more stake in it if I can put it that way. I think that, for us, it wasn’t that we tried to balance volunteering with other things, it was just so important to try to help your child, so you just get on and do it” says Adrienne.

What do they think makes a good parent? Have they got any good tips?

“You have to let your children know they are loved for who they are. It doesn’t matter on results or who they are in life. You love them the way they are and that’s the most important. And tell them that. It’s important to understand your child's love language, you might be giving them all the gifts in the world but actually, all they need is a hug or you might be giving them all this quality time but actually, you should be saying how great they are.”

And what recommendations would they give to parents who have just discovered that their child has an intellectual disability?

“We were really fortunate in that Luke has a really rare disability; he was never put in a box. Make sure they don’t get boxed. Make sure your expectations of them are always greater than what you have been told. Don’t get limited and celebrate the small successes. They will have progressed in their own way and celebrate those successes and don’t limit your expectations of them because they will surprise you.”

Continues Adrienne: “You know they may not live the most conventional life, but they can have a successful and happy life, as long as you are there to champion them. You will have to champion them and fight for them. Make sure you fight for them because no one else is going to do that for them.”

“Don’t take no for an answer, go with your gut because it is often right,” adds Adrienne.

“And introduce them to Special Olympics!” they both say at the same time!

Wise words indeed. Many thanks to Jim and Adrienne for taking the time to share their story and many thanks to all our dedicated volunteers who give their time to Special Olympics GB and our athletes.