Australia’s Special Olympics team will compete against 7000 athletes from 177 countries over the next fortnight in the World Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Australia’s team comprises 76 athletes from around the country competing in sports such as aquatics, athletics, basketball, equestrian eventing and sailing.
The Victorian team has trained hard at the Cardinia Life Leisure Centre in Pakenham , focusing their attention on basketball and bowling. Volunteers from Victoria Police walked alongside the athletes, holding up the smaller than usual Olympic flame as they circled around the basketball courts, helping them rehearse for the opening ceremony on July 25, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“It’s fantastic that we have the opportunity to come [to the rehearsal] with all of the athletes to welcome them to the events,” Victoria Police’s Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton told The Newsroom.
“[The] law enforcement torch run is another very important way that Victoria Police connects with our community.”
Athletes from all over Victoria with a range of disabilities attended the rehearsal, with two representatives from each team including Ballarat, North Melbourne and Bendigo, marching proudly with their banners held high.
Nineteen-year old Alannah McKeown was very excited about her upcoming appearance in the Special Olympic Games.
“I can’t wait to go to LA,” Alannah said. “My brother will come, my sister will come, and Martha [Alannah’s coach] will come. My favourite sport is swimming. I love to do different strokes, and it’s good for fitness.”
Alannah exercises everyday whether it be dancing, swimming or walking home from her art class.
“There’s no gym work involved or anything like that,” Judith McKeown, Alannah’s mum, told The Newsroom. “Alannah’s favourite thing to do in her spare time is dance. That’s what she does herself as a bit of a fitness thing.”
Judith said she was grateful to the people that had made such opportunities available for her child.
“LA is so special,” Judith said. “It’s almost too much for one brain to contain the excitement. I’m so proud for Alannah. I think we have a different picture and understanding of it than Alannah does, but that’s okay. We understand that it’s just the most wonderful opportunity, and the Special Olympics does things so well. There’s been opportunities for her to meet the other athletes, to go to the training camp, and to feel really comfortable. I know that Alannah will be really well-supported, so I’m really excited for her.”
Each team of athletes has a specific coach who helps the team members achieve their best in their chosen field, providing physical and moral support as they walk or run alongside the tracks or field.
“This year, they’ve [athletes] come in leaps and bounds, they’ve been amazing,” coach Zoe Ryan, 22, told The Newsroom. “Watching them come from so little skills to winning games all the time now is super exciting, which is really good.” – Report and photo by Sarah Batt