Special Olympics athletes in lockdown limbo

Thames coach Anna Walters, left, at a recent indoor bowls event with fellow coach Sandra Vandenberg from Howick Pakuranga. Supplied photo.

Anxiety is growing amongst thousands of athletes, coaches and volunteers as the Covid-19 lockdown is starting to affect their preparation for the Freemasons New Zealand Special Olympics National Summer Games.

With only 100 days to go today before the four-yearly pinnacle event in Hamilton, coaches and athletes are coming up with innovative ways to stay connected and replicate their training schedules inside their bubble.

“We may not be going to Tokyo like our cousins from the Paralympics, but the National Summer Games are just as important to thousands of Special Olympics athletes and coaches who have been training hard for four years to compete in ‘The Tron’,” says Special Olympics New Zealand chief executive Carolyn Young, who is planning for nearly 2000 athletes with intellectual disabilities and their coaches to compete across 8 venues and 10 sports from December 8-12.

On Monday, the 100-day countdown towards the National Summer Games began, but with the current uncertainty, Carolyn and the team are also keeping their fingers crossed that Covid doesn’t disrupt their plans and they can all still go to Hamilton.

Anna Walters in Thames Valley was one of the Special Olympics volunteer coaches who did not waste any time, posting exercises on Facebook for the athletes as soon as the country went into lockdown.

“It is a bit of fun for athletes to see us training. I know many of them go back over them once they have finished laughing at me,” says Anna, whose posts have also become popular with neighbouring clubs.

The coach says that lockdown has been particularly hard on athletes living in residential care, where it is difficult to get outside for exercise and where internet access may be limited for residents to join online activities.

“They tell me they are experiencing ‘cabin fever’, because being out and about in the community is such a big part of their hauora,” says Walters who coaches indoor bowls and athletics.

While most of the athletes are managing to do some daily exercise in preparation for the games, Walters says the lockdown also affects the ability for clubs to fundraise to get to the games.

“We do rely on the local community to support us and with lockdown we are not out in the community doing the raffles and fundraising, so this is something that we are going to have to address.” 

Down in Wellington, Special Olympics athlete Rebecca Heath says that the lockdown is seriously impacting on her preparation to compete in swimming and golf.

“Not being able to go to the pool or gym is putting a dampener on my training, but I am lucky that I can still go for a walk,” say Heath who is trying to stay positive.

Walters says the athletes are desperate to start training, but are happy to play their part in the fight against Covid 19.

“The Special Olympics motto “Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt” seems quite apt at the moment, as we are all part of this team of five million being brave in our bubbles.”

To watch Anna’s exercises, check out the Thames Valley Special Olympics Facebook page

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