As part of UK Coaching Week, we're telling the stories of Special Olympics Great Britain coaches and promoting activities taking places around the network.

Today, we learn the journey of Simon Roach, who led Team Special Olympics GB's powerlifting team at Berlin 2023 and leads SAW Cymru powerlifting club in Pembrokeshire.


I’m very fortunate to have worked as a Head Coach at weightlifting and powerlifting events around the world, including six Commonwealth Games. However, I rank the experience volunteering as Head Coach for our powerlifting team at the Berlin 2023 Special Olympics World Games as good as anything that I’ve worked on.

I started a 16-year career as a PE teacher in 1996 but recognised that pupils who were not naturally gifted or sport minded were being left out.

It’s something that I wanted to address in every school that I worked in and ensure that we can provide options that better support the needs of all pupils. 

Some Additional Learning Needs (ALN) departments at schools didn’t have a lot of physical activity going on for their pupils. Therefore, I worked with teachers to create inclusive lessons each week that allowed the pupils to improve their health and fitness, but also to upskill, develop confidence and become more involved in mainstream lessons.

It’s something that has stayed with me throughout my career and, when I started a job with Welsh Weightlifting in 2013, I was also able to access funding from Sport Wales to set up the Strength Academy Wales (SAW) not-for-profit organisation in Haverfordwest.

SAW started as an Olympic Weightlifting club. We had a good link with a local school who could signpost pupils who they thought might need a boost in confidence. Very quickly we discovered that we weren’t just producing weightlifters, but changing lives as our sessions supported the wellbeing of people with different needs and abilities.

Ten years later, the organisation has grown dramatically. We’ve got around 400 members at SAW aged 11 to 80-years-old, with more than half of them accessing our free community programmes. These include inclusive sessions for over 65s, for unpaid carers, home educated families, people with dementia, and under privileged or deprived 11 to 16-year-olds.

We’ve got plenty of competitive weightlifters and they all support each other, no matter what their level of competition is. Regularly, you will see Team Special Olympics Great Britain’s Bleddyn Gibbs training alongside Wales Para Powerlifter Evelyn Thomas or Team Wales Commonwealth Swimmer Lily Rice, along with a strong depth of Weightlifting and Powerlifting athletes.

There’s such a great vibe at the sessions that I coach at and it’s a truly world-class, inclusive training environment for everyone.

Bleddyn first came to the gym with his Dad Steff in 2019 as they wanted to enjoy doing a sporting activity together.

I remember him benching and squatting with an empty bar, without any weights on, when he started. It was a challenge for him to get the control, but slowly he developed his strength levels and confidence, whilst also hugely enjoying the social side of the club.

There were no national competitions available at the time, so we created an event here at SAW and it gave him the bug to do more.

I worked with Special Olympics Wales to set-up a taster session for athletes over a weekend, which included several other sports. In advance, five of our coaches became registered Special Olympics GB volunteers and the club secured accreditation.

Afterwards, we had aspirations of organising a bigger competition at the new venue that SAW moved into

Having learned more about the upcoming 2023 World Games, I spoke with Laura Davies to work out how the competition would work and if we could potentially send a team to compete.

We soon developed the framework for a national competition for registered athletes and, with two places allocated for the Berlin Games, we confirmed our powerlifting team of Bleddyn and Glasgow Eagles’ Geraldine Fitzsimmons. We had one of the youngest and oldest athletes within the full 81-strong Team Special Olympics GB squad.

Both athletes hit personal bests in winning their gold medals in Berlin and thrived in a very loud and fun environment.

The competition arena at the Berlin Messe had a lot of similarities with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games competition at the NEC. It was a compact arena, lots of high tiered seating and lots of cheering and music. There was an inspiring and supportive atmosphere.

Both Bleddyn and Geraldine did a great job in rising to the occasion and I’m very proud of them both.

Through my volunteering work with Special Olympics GB, I want to expand the level of opportunities for athletes to train and compete.

There are Special Olympics GB powerlifting athletes based around the UK who might not be connected to a club, so are a bit on their own in terms of learning the correct techniques. I want to help them gain more knowledge of the training plans to follow and the rules of the competitions.

I’m hosting a training weekend where we can help upskill athletes, parents and carers, so that they can practice proper technique in their own environment. It’s also a great way to bring people together and grow the powerlifting community within Special Olympics GB.

I would love the opportunity to expand weightlifting opportunities for our athletes within the Special Olympics movement and I would certainly relish the opportunity to help train and take a bigger squad of athletes to the next World Games in 2027.