GETTING involved in Special Olympics has changed the life of 15-year-old athlete Stuart Brierton and his family.
Apart from the sport, the medals, the sense of achievement and the foreign travel, there are the friendships, the memories and the belonging.
Speaking as the organisation mounted its annual national fundraising day, mum Karen said Stuart's involvement had been "an amazing journey".
Until Special Olympics, Stuart, who is from Bray, Co Wicklow, had a go at sport locally but Karen found that parents were not always understanding if he didn't follow the right rules.
Now Stuart is a confident, fit teenager, who was thrilled to MC with 'Dragons' Den' star Bobby Kerr at a fundraising event for the charity yesterday.
Asked what Special Olympics had done for him, Stuart said: "I've got skill, confidence. I've got nerve." "And girlfriends," added his dad Tony, with a smile.
Karen said that since he returned from South Korea where he won three medals for alpine skiing, he kept getting messages on his Facebook page from girls.
Athlete Alan McLoughlin, meanwhile, combines training for the 10-pin bowling event with his work in the Athlete Leadership Programme, which promotes well-being in athletes.
Matt English, CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, urged people to give what they could to support the organisation. "Special Olympics does change lives," he said, adding that it gave people with an intellectual disability "dignity, self-confidence" and helped them become healthier.
The organisation supports 11,000 athletes from 400 clubs.