For Special Olympics Ellesmere Port, Chester & Neston athlete Peter Millar and St Albans athlete Matt Dodds, travelling to the United States of America to participate in the Dream Ride Experience was always going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
Indeed it was but having been back for a little under a week, both are reflecting on how the experience has changed their outlook and given them new goals and confidence that supports their independence.
Dream Ride was a three-day car and motorbike festival in Farmington, Connecticut, which is organised by the Hometown Foundation to raise funds for several charities, including Special Olympics.
As Dream Riders, Matt and Peter joined Special Olympics athletes from around the world in experiencing a high-speed ride in a sought-after sports car, before arriving back at the festival for a red-carpet reception and party.
However, whilst they also got to experience the sights of New York City and Boston in their US adventure, it was developing their confidence and independence away from home that left the strongest legacy of the trip.
“I feel more positive as a person and more confident in trying to do more things independently as a result of this experience,” said Peter. “I’ve had to do more things for myself, such as setting my alarm, packing my suitcase and managing my money.”
Athletes were selected for Dream Ride through an application process that was open to members of the Athlete Leadership Team who were not part of the Team Special Olympics GB squad or the support delegation at Berlin 2023.
Peter (31), who joined the Athlete Leadership Team at the start of this year, has not been on an overseas experience with Special Olympics GB since the Shanghai 2007 Special Olympics World Games and the 2010 Special Olympic European Games in Warsaw, where he starred in tennis.
“Dream Ride has made me realise that I can travel without support,” added Peter. “However, more than that, I now want to learn to live independently in assisted facilitated living and I will be speaking to my social worker about what options I have available.”
Fellow 31-year-old Matt, who is a founder member of the Athlete Leadership Team and was part of the Special Olympics GB football team that won gold at the Los Angeles 2015 Special Olympics World Games, is also setting his sights on travelling more independently following his return from Dream Ride.
“I’m already saving up to return to the US,” said Matt “Whilst we had support on this trip, I know that I can go through airports and experience international travel on my own without any difficultly.
“Dream Ride has made me want to see more of the world and it’s such a boost to know that I’m now capable to managing these challenges on my own.”
Whilst Peter and Matt have returned from Dream Ride with enhanced skills sets and goals, as part of the group of around 400 Special Olympics athletes from around the world, they also made many great friends.
“I made friends with fellow athletes from Ireland, Massachusetts and North Carolina, but it was also great to get to know my fellow Athlete Leadership Team member Peter much better,” said Matt.
“I laughed and danced so much and I would recommend the Dream Ride Experience to everyone within the Special Olympics movement.”
Peter and Matt were supported on their Dream Ride Experience 2023 by Special Olympics GB Business Development Manager (Enterprise and Leadership) Tom Casson and Head of Fundraising Polly Hale.