It was one of those rare moments that happen once in a lifetime

Kit Ryan is chairperson of Tralee Together Special Olympics and a proud community activist. Kerryman reporter Stephen Fernane spoke to her about a memorable week in June 2003 when athletes from El Salvador stayed in Tralee and her many other interests.

El Salvador and Kerry are two places close to Kit Ryan's heart.

The popular Tralee woman is Chairperson of Tralee Together Special Olympics, which was created following the excitement of the 2003 Word Games in Dublin.

Approaching Kit's home, the sight of a Kerry flag waving from the top window tells me I've come to the right place.

She greets me at the gate and we sit together for a chat in glorious sunshine surrounded by her beautiful garden.

A native of Kilmoyley, Kit married Tralee man Liam Ryan and moved to Tralee in 1975.

But while Kit left Kilmoyley, it would be a mistake to think Kilmoyley ever left Kit for hurling is another of her passions. Kevin Barry's Villas is her home today and she's proud to be an adopted Boherbee woman

"My neighbours here are just unreal. They are fantastic and it's lovely to walk out the door at any time in the day and have a chat with them. A sense of community is a lovely thing," she says.

In June 2003 Tralee hosted the El Salvador Special Olympics Team ahead of a never to be forgotten Olympics in Dublin - an occasion that captivated the nation with its warm and affectionate embrace of people with special needs.

Words alone don't do justice in describing Kit's proud smile as she recalls the El Salvador athletes removing their tracksuit tops to reveal Kerry jerseys on the morning of their departure to Dublin - a show of affection reciprocated in spades by everyone who witnessed that moment.

The El Salvador team consisted of 49 athletes and all over Ireland the towns, cities and villages hosted delegations.

"It was just one of those rare moments, simple as that," Kit said.

"Everything from street carnivals, parades and shopping trips were arranged for them during their stay. It is a week that will live with me forever."

Tralee took the event under its wing from the start and Kit recalls the first meeting held in what was then The Abbey Gate Hotel in January, 2002.

She attended the meeting with Paddy Garvey and from there on the numbers swelled. A 'Host Town Committee' of 31 volunteers was set up with current Cathaoirleach of Kerry County Council, Norma Foley, as its Chairperson.

"It was one of the most important things I've ever witnessed. I remember the mass on the morning the El Salvador team were leaving and there wasn't a dry eye in the church. Everyone was so good to them.

"A number of us got together to make blue and white buntings, which are El Salvador's colours. We must have covered the whole town with those buntings.

"There is a lot of people that you could thank, but Bill Kennedy should be singled out for special praise as he allowed the El Salvador delegation to use his apartments during that week. I will never forget him for that."

Kit describes the evening the El Salvador team bus arrived in town as one of the most emotional experiences of her life.

It was also the moment when the first whispers of forming their own organisation started. Soon after, Tralee Together Special Olympics Team was formed and they haven't hit a stone on the road since.

"We sat down and decided we would start up or own group in Tralee, which we did.

"We're going since May 1, 2004 and people like Sheila and Lorna O'Sullivan, head coach Liam Martin, and assistant coach Shane Roche, and many more, have been great. Shane recently coached 4 of our athletes at the Special Olympics in Dublin," Kit said.

Like most things in life, public interest usually dips following a major high. And once the euphoria of the 2003 Special Olympics World Games had left town, Kit believes it was the special dynamic formed within the Tralee group that helped push momentum forward.

The Olympic torch may have moved on, but its glow is still seen in parts of Kerry today where Special Olympics Clubs are the norm 15-years later.

Special Olympics activities are very much a year-round affair with clubs covering a large geographical spread from Tralee to Killarney, and Cahersiveen to Tarbert.

Both indoor and outdoor games are arranged and it's something the volunteers take as much pleasure from as the athletes themselves.

Kit also praises the local schools in Tralee who supply new volunteers every six-weeks to help the athletes in their participation.

"It is a great committee and nothing is ever any bother.

"When you have that, you seldom go wrong in any organisation. Only for the 2003 Special Olympics none of this would have happened to the extent that it did.

"Thank God for Eunice Kennedy Shriver [founder of the SpecialOlympics in 1968] is all I can say.

"The amount of clubs that have been set up in Kerry is amazing. We meet at Cumann Iosaef on Saturday evenings, and it's just lovely to see.

"We even have a woman who travels from Cahersiveen to Tralee every Saturday to volunteer. Now that gives you an idea of the dedication involved. It's also a wonderful opportunity for families to mix and become friends," she says.

You couldn't possibly sit down for a chat with Kit and not discuss the finer points of Kerry football. Kit travels to Kerry games at times in the year when most people don't even know Kerry are playing.

That's the way it's always been and there's little sign of it changing anytime soon. Kit loves everything about Kerry.

"I'm going to hurling and football matches for over 45 years.

"I love it and I wouldn't hear a word said against any of the players. The enjoyment they have given us, and the friends we've met following them around the country, is so special.

"I've no doubt this current Kerry team will get better with every game."

Lastly, Kit pauses for a few seconds when asked what moment stands out as the proudest she's ever witnessed during all her years as a community activist.

"To see that Olympic torch being carried through the streets of Tralee was special. But the proudest moment was the night the El Salvador athletes stepped off the bus in Tralee. There isn't a day goes by that I don't think about it."

Kerryman

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