Looking back at the Special Olympics

Alistair Beverley looks back at the Special Olympics highlights, reflecting on his experiences and looking at what the future holds for Special Olympics Great Britain.

by alistair.beverley

Aileen, Alistair and other physios at the Games

We are all home now and digesting what was an amazing period for everyone involved. I will confess I miss leaving my washing outside my door only for it to return neatly pressed the next morning.  I also am not a fan of this new found fad called “cooking”, I mean, where is my 20-station buffet?!  

Travelling with a Special Olympics squad is not easy, you are mentally “on duty” 24 hours for the entirety of the trip and, whereas other sports coaches involvement may end when the athlete steps off the field of play, our volunteers support athletes from waking to going to bed and everything in between as well as in the field of play.

So aside from tired the overwhelming feeling I personally hold is pride; pride in how our athletes conducted themselves and represented their country - pride in how as an entire squad of athletes, coaches, support team, public relations and management came together to help 126 people with intellectual disabilities show the world what they can achieve through sport.  

Pride also from a physiotherapy standpoint. It appears that we, operating within the areas overseen by the CSP have more clinical clout than we know.  Time and time again we met physios from other countries who are not allowed to assess, and all treatments must be prescribed via a consultant. This did lead to some interesting discussions when local medical services were wanting to immediately take someone off for a scan for a dead leg without any subjective questioning at all.

Physios working on Special Olympics athletes at the hotel clinic

From a physiotherapy standpoint we have had relatively few injuries.  This may have been pot luck, however I like to think that the work that went into preparation including comprehensive screening for injury paid dividends. Now, before my colleagues scream the holiday word at me, that doesn’t mean we weren’t busy.  We were still supporting athletes with exercise programmes and advice on minor niggles people were carrying. A couple of highlights included a young man who was non-verbal after a physio session calling Aileen “magic doctor” and a young lady who really took ownership of her physio programme and engaged in the exercise part rather than bouncing from passive treatment to passive treatment.

For our athletes, Abu Dhabi gave them a world-class stage to show everyone what they can achieve and boy did they up their game to meet that challenge. There could be many stories of glories, Kiera Byland with her second world games haul of three golds, the men's football and basketball bringing home gold, the women's basketball achieving a fantastic bronze medal.  

However, if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the Special Olympics is about personal achievement off the field of play as much as it is on it. A selectively mute table tennis player with severe autism who, upon landing in the UK held the hands of their head coach and said “Go back to Abu Dhabi”, squads who rallied around athletes who may have been struggling with anxiety or behaviours, athletes who have increased so much in self-confidence and independence that their parents said they were barely recognisable upon returning home. Athletes who have made friends and bonded, supporting each other to live healthier lifestyles and engage with support services are where the true value of Special Olympics lies.

Although some of you may be reading this after the games and it may have passed many by but we had the largest amount of coverage for Team Special Olympics Great Britain at a games ever! Highlights coverage is still available via YouTube and the ESPN player app (just click what’s on, you don’t have to sign up to anything). BBC and ITV films crews travelled with us, as did YouTuber Theo Baker (feeling old yet everyone?) to deliver hours-worth of content to regional news programmes. We had at least four slots on BBC Breakfast and have featured on a documentary called “The Kennedy Who Changed the World” which is available on BBC iPlayer. There were articles on the BBC Sport website which went down fantastically with the athletes who feel validated as the sports women and men they are.

So, what has volunteering for the Special Olympics done for me? It has introduced me to the funniest, most humbling inspirational people I could ever wish to work alongside. It has reinforced to me the value of friendship, teamwork, and that everyone can offer something to contribute to the team, no matter their disability. I am more proud of my status as a physiotherapist in the UK and the freedoms that affords me. I now have developed friendship and professional connections with healthcare professionals across the UK and world.

Would I recommend it? Without a shadow of a doubt I would!

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