Meet Darren Carew, our new Chair of Special Olympics Wales - “Inclusion is what I live and breathe”

Special Olympics Wales has a new Chair, Darren Carew. As National Inclusion Manager at the Welsh Rugby Union, Darren is a ball of energy whose enthusiasm for all things inclusion is infectious.  Although Darren is new to Special Olympics Wales, not only has he had personal experience of the power of sport and the benefits it can bring, Darren, also understands the power and potential of what Special Olympics can unlock for both our athletes and volunteers.  And it’s exciting!

Tell us a little bit about you Darren?

“I’m originally from Cardiff, but I live in the Brecon Beacons now. I’m from a military family. I joined the army back in 1997 and had a pretty healthy career. I was injured in Afghanistan in 2008 so then I went through a bit of a transitional period.

“I had damage to my leg and took a bump to my head and lost some hearing in my left ear. There is this place called Headley Court which is the Defence Medical Research Centre where all injured soldiers go to rehabilitate. 

“I didn’t lose my leg when I was blown up. It was quite badly damaged so I went through a series of about five years of operations trying to save my leg so I could go back to being a soldier. And it got to a stage where I was in so much pain, every operation failed, I appealed to them and fair play to them, I went through a bit of a process, went to London, and they cut my leg off.

“While I was at Headley Court, I was lucky in the fact that sports recovery is massively important.  So, I went through the whole Invictus journey. I started off training in discus, shotput, bit of cycling as well. Then went to America and competed in the US Airforce Trials in Nevada which was an amazing experience. I thought yes, this is what I want to do. Then I went to the Warrior Games again in the States. While I was out there, I was competing in discus and there was a big, tall US Marines guy who failed his throw. He was really struggling with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and he left the throwing cage quite agitated.  I had thrown my discus and was in the lead, and I took him aside and said, ‘Come on buddy, you’ve got this. Just drop all the noise out of your head, ignore all the people watching and just focus purely on what’s in front of you.’ And he went out there and he nailed his throw. He took gold, I took silver and that was my introduction to becoming a coach! 

“When I got back, I spent loads of time on the touchline of my kid’s rugby club. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was attending the Disability Six Nations, working for the Welsh Rugby Union as a community coach where I developed a disabilities schools programme, and the rest they say is history!”

So how did you get involved with Special Olympics Wales?

“I used to bump into the previous Chair, Jeff Savory, a number of times at these big disability events called Insport held by Disability Sport Wales. I’d been going since the very beginning because there was this perception that rugby was not accessible to people with disabilities.  So, I started running some sessions and it was a massive success. I saw the role on social media, and I was like that’s really, really cool and I literally retweeted it and just said ‘oh, do you know what, I’d go for this if I had any governance experience.’  And all of a sudden, the messages started coming in saying ‘why don’t you just go for it.’  And then Michael Beynon (Special Olympics Wales athlete) got in touch with me saying, ‘Darren, you’d be great at this.’ And I thought ‘oh, I can’t refuse you mate.’ Mike was the reason why I ended up applying for the role.” 

What’s the vision for Special Olympics Wales? 

“I was always of the mind that whatever we do has to be co-created, co-developed. It’s not my vision for Special Olympics Wales, it’s what our vision is. We are in the middle of our consultation, survey and regional forums and by the time we collate all of that information, it’s really going to give me a clearer idea of what our vision is. I’ve got my ideas but I’m not going to push my ideas on anyone. I want our athletes and our volunteers to come forward and make suggestions. That way we come on the journey together – unified. If we can build that cohesion, the world is our oyster, and we will achieve so much more together.” 

What do you think of our athletes and volunteers? 

I am quite lucky in my role for the Welsh Rugby Union that I’ve worked with a lot of former and current Special Olympics athletes within Wales. There is no difference between the groups that I work with. What I would say from an organisational point of view there is no greater asset than our athletes. The stories, the energy, the pure enjoyment, the innocent enjoyment of sport and everything that they bring enables us to do so much. What is the point of doing anything if you’re not doing it for your athletes and volunteers? The athletes can’t have any activity without our volunteers – so you’ve got to give as much love to them. Volunteers are worth their weight in gold. They truly are.  So, message to the athletes - you are amazing! Within Wales I can’t wait to meet you all and you can inspire me to work harder. And it’s the same for our volunteers - the absolute lifeblood of what we do. 

What does Inclusion mean to you? 

“Inclusion is what I live and breathe. I want to live in an environment where everyone gets an opportunity to do what they love. There is this pre-conceived idea of what people with disabilities can and can’t do and for me, it’s about smashing that down in any way we can.  If we can use the vehicle of sport and activity to do that then that’s what it’s about for me. 

What inspires you?

“I unearthed what my reason why was - it’s that human connection. When you listen to the athletes or participants stories and learn about them, it’s the most amazing thing. As a coach in that environment, you’re working with individuals who never really had opportunities and they grab it with both hands, and they absolutely love it and jump in with no fear and just get engaged.  That’s when you see that level of change. You've got to understand your reason why and that is what inspires me. I’m so connected to our athletes or the players within my work, that is the fuel for me. They just don’t get enough opportunities.” 

What’s your ask if someone is reading this? 

“If you’re in Wales - please come and join us.  We’ll have a hell of a party! People have got the ability to be part of something special and I’m completely invested in it. It doesn’t take much. Go down and join your local club. Go find out about what Special Olympics is about if you don’t know already. If you do know, get completely invested and pull a friend in. The more athletes we can unearth, the more opportunities we can offer.  We’ve got this player base but there are so many more people we can reach. So, let’s bring in more volunteers and more athletes!”