Friday 18 October 2019

Special Olympics: There is a secret to Ireland's ongoing success

Green Army: Team Ireland is led out by Sports Minister Shane Ross during the Special Olympic World Games 2019 opening ceremony in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Sportsfile
Green Army: Team Ireland is led out by Sports Minister Shane Ross during the Special Olympic World Games 2019 opening ceremony in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Sportsfile
Ryan Nugent

Ryan Nugent

THERE'S a secret to the success of Ireland's Special Olympics athletes and it all lies in focusing the minds – with some of the stars practicing Tai Chi during the interval in their competition.

The Chinese martial art has been introduced across the board for Special Olympics Ireland athletes.

And the benefits were there for all to see in the Adnec Arena, where badminton star, Sarah-Louise Rea (19) has been swatting aside all in front of her.

The Lisburn athlete made light work of her Signapore opponent, Zhi Xin, Keryn Ching on St Patrick's Day to leave her mum Sharon Rea almost in tears...until she was given a nudge by her daughter to pull herself together, “no crying” the teenager insisted.

Though Sarah-Louise did say the success is all about “making my family proud”.

Asked how the game had gone, the teen reckoned it was one of her best ever and admitted “I let my emotion out” when describing how she feels about winning big points.

Gymnasts Kellie O’Donnell, Lisa Redmond and Laura Rumball
Gymnasts Kellie O’Donnell, Lisa Redmond and Laura Rumball

“I had an amazing match, it was amazing to get playing today,” she said.

Each time her opponent served, Sarah-Louise would have a unique style of one hand on her racket, with the other up in the air alongside her head.

“It's for the player to know I'm ready, but for me I give them a little wave and say hello...it's like a senory thing for me,” she said.

During the break between sets, Sarah-Louise could be seen putting the martial art to work with coach, Kim McCrave, using what is called a ball-system.

“It's about crossing the mid-line of the body making all the sensory aspects come into focus and really using it as a calming tool as well as getting ourselves focused and ready,” her coach explained.

“Passion comes in both ways, when you're up and when you're so down, so when we're able to refocus her when she's down and get that focus back quick it's essential to her game,” she added.

And while the medals continued to roll in on Day 3 of competitions, so did the support for Team Ireland...in particular from the locals.

Irish teachers – James Balmer, Caoimhe Nig Aoife and Lisa Quinn Kilcoyne – managed to bring hundreds of their pupils From ICS Abu Dhabi on a St Patrick's Day field trip and taught them some Irish chants along the way.

“Go East, go West, Ireland is the best” and “Team Ireland” were chanted out loudly by the Emirati children as they watched their adopted nation in the basketball.

Co Down man, James told Independent.ie that a lot of practice had gone into this.

"We've brought them out as a school trip here to support Team Ireland," he said.

"There's many Irish teachers in the school, so they take after us well.

"We teach them, we tried to fit it in a little bit, teach them the songs, teach them the chants," he added.

Later in the day, a rake of medals flooded in for the team in artistic gymnastics, with Laura Rumball from Dun Laoghaire, Kellie O'Donnell from Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary and Lisa Redmond all among the big winners.

Explaining how it all felt Laura (22) – with medals wrapped around her neck - said it was “fabulous” as she showed off two silver medals along with a fourth and fifth place.

Her mum, Amanda could not have been prouder, despite a long wait for the results.

“So it's a huge relief to actually know how well she's done and we're gonna party tonight on St Patricks Day. It's been so exciting and a lot of work has gone into it over the last few months, a lot of training and lots of people at home sending their good wishes, it's just incredible to actually be here,” she said.

And in the style of a true performer, Laura even managed to do the floss dance on the podium.

With plenty more competitions to come over the next four days, it's unlikely that will be the last dance we'll see from our Irish athletes.

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