Physio heads to Abu Dhabi for Special Olympics

Alistair Beverley, one of Team GB's physios at the Special Olympics World Games, talks about how he'll be supporting participants in Abu Dhabi this month.

by alistair.beverley

Physios Alistair Beverley and Aileen Young will be supporting competitors in the Special Olympics.

As I sit here it's snowing in parts of the UK and in spite of it being winter here, I’ve got factor 50 sun cream on. Right now, Aileen, myself, Nicola, Karen and Magalie are in the United Arab Emirates - travelling as part of a 180 strong delegation representing Great Britain. We are supporting athletes with intellectual disabilities (learning disabilities) or as they're referred to here, People of Determination, to compete in The Special Olympics World Summer Games.

The lesser-known and non-government funded Special Olympics differs from the Olympics or Paralympics in so much as all athletes taking part have some form of intellectual disability. This movement, which covers more than 170 nations worldwide, focuses upon participation and an athlete's ability rather than elite sport and categorising by disability.

The Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who saw how people with intellectual disabilities were marginalised by society. Eunice believed that if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities as the rest of society, they could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible.

Team GB send-off dinner in Kensington

In 1962 she put that vision into action by inviting young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp she hosted in her backyard. She called it 'Camp Shriver'. From there the Special Olympics was born helping athletes to show that 'through sports they can realise their potential for growth'.

Through this blog I hope to chart our journey in 2019, discuss the roles we have as Special Olympics GB volunteers, reflect on how this has impacted upon our lives and practice, and showcase ways and opportunities for other physios to become involved in this organisation.

I should again mention and give thanks to the CSP, who are very kindly sponsoring Aileen and myself by covering our travel costs to be able to support the athletes. We make up two of the supporting team, which includes a team doctor and four safeguarding and welfare officers.

This particular team journey began two years ago when preparations for the World Summer Games began, following Team SOGB’s participation at the world Winter Games in Austria in 2017 – probably another event you haven’t heard of right? The National summer Games of Sheffield 2017? The largest multi-sport event in the UK that year? No? The 40th Anniversary Games 2018 in Stirling? Okay, national games etc, I understand may have flown under the national media’s radar. But what about the largest sporting event in the world in 2019? You would've thought you’d hear about that, right? Well, if you’re reading this, congratulations, now you have!

Alistair and Aileen had an early check-in at Heathrow

Media interest aside, our volunteer Head of Delegation, Laura Baxter and volunteer Assistant Head Andrea Martin have been working tirelessly behind the scenes with Laura Davies from Special Olympics head office in London to put together the squad, select coaches, support team and athletes. There have been head coach and volunteer training weekends as well as two full GB team weekends alongside squad training weekends. Volunteering for this isn’t a cushy ride.

Aileen and I were selected after an application and interview process as squad physiotherapists. Nicola, Karen, and Magalie were also selected to support athletics, sailing and rhythmic gymnastics respectively. We have all volunteered at local and national games level which made us eligible to apply for our positions.

We have thus far completed physical screening for all athletes with a focus on injury susceptibility and prevention and will be with the squad all games to assist with injury management.

Right now we are in the Host Town Programme phase of the games which is a series of local and cultural events designed to assist with acclimatisation and team building whilst improving understanding of the country we are visiting.

The opening ceremony is next week and I just hope you get chance to see it and some competition. This is a chance for athletes to show the world what they can do and I hope the world, particularly those in GB are able to watch.


Alistair Beverley is physiotherapy manager at Portland College in Mansfield, a further education facility for people with disabilities. Follow him on Twitter.

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