| 14.3°C Dublin

'Ireland's never seen such a unity of spirit'

The place: New Haven, Connecticut. The year: 1995. The event: Opening Ceremony of the ninth Special Olympics World Summer Games.

This was the setting when I turned to my colleagues from Special Olympics Ireland and said, 'We can do this and we can do it bigger and better', and from then on I never looked back.

We wanted Ireland to be the first country outside America to host the Special Olympics World Summer Games to raise awareness of the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities and their challenges. Four years later we won the bid to stage the Games. Our dream for our nation and Special Olympics athletes had become a reality, but the task ahead was monumental.

PROUD

DURING THE YEARS OF PLANNING THAT WENT BEHIND THE 2003 GAMES, THE VISION ALWAYS REMAINED THE SAME – TO STAGE AN EVENT THE ATHLETES WOULD BE PROUD TO PARTICIPATE IN AND THE COUNTRY WOULD BE PROUD TO HOST.

Nothing like it had ever been done before in Ireland, so there were no templates – only a dream.

Ten years on, I am proud to look back and remember how our nation united in support of the 10,000 athletes and coaches who came to our shores from 160 countries to compete.

Never before, nor since, has our country witnessed such unity of spirit. Ten years on, I still recall the words of former President Mary McAleese when she said "we have wrung the word 'proud' dry over the past 10 days".

We needed the people of Ireland to support us and they did ... in their thousands. A staggering 31,000 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds signed up.

Accommodation was another major challenge. We needed to accommodate 7,000 athletes, 3,000 coaches and thousands of family members. Yet again the people of Ireland stepped up to the plate. Communities across 177 host towns and villages opened their hearts and homes in a show of unparalleled hospitality we never anticipated or expected.

The memory of which is still very much alive in several of those towns, reflected in the hundreds of 'welcome' signs still standing today.

People from all walks of life, young and old, were touched by the 2003 Games and the ultimate legacy is that children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Ireland now have a better life.

That legacy is immeasurable but it is important that Special Olympics continue to grow and open new clubs and provide more opportunities for more and more children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Ten years on, we still need your help to do this, as government funding has been severely cut. We are inviting people to become a Friend of Special Olympics. See www.special olympics.ie for further information.

I invite you also to share the feeling of 2003 with us once again by going along to some of the events we are holding to celebrate the tenth anniversary.

SUPPORT

BETWEEN 2-3PM NEXT SATURDAY, WE WILL BE STAGING EVENTS IN DUBLIN, GALWAY, CORK AND BELFAST AND DETAILS CAN BE FOUND AT THE WEBSITE. SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR OUR ATHLETES BY GOING ALONG IF YOU CAN.

Hosting the Games in 2003 gave us all a wonderful opportunity to realise where our greatness lies as an island. It is in our great goodness, warmth, decency and compassion for all and with each athlete's experience that there comes a lasting legacy of attitudes changed and an ability to welcome and accept that which is different.

As Eunice Kennedy Shriver said during the 2003 0pening ceremony, "If we follow the power of love that the Special Olympians show, we will change the world."

* Mary Davis is chairperson of Special Olympics Ireland and was CEO of 2003 World Summer Games.


Privacy