This March, five Galway athletes will travel to Abu Dhabi to compete in the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games.
Part of a 91-strong Team Ireland squad, Matthew Brennan (35 ) from Ardrahan, Katie Dillon (27 ) Ballinasloe, Simon Lowry (27 ) from Loughrea, Aine McDermott (24 ) from Athenry, Michelle O’Keane (36 ) Galway city, and Emma Barrett (21 ) from Ennis, but who trains with Team South Galway in aquatics, will represent Ireland at the highest level of sporting competition for Special Olympics athletes.
Taking place from March 14 to 21, Abu Dhabi 2019 will be the largest sporting and humanitarian event in the world this year. Supported by a volunteer management team of 39, Team Ireland will join 7,000 Special Olympics athletes from 170 countries at the games.
Speaking at the launch, Team Ireland swimmer, Michelle O’Keane, aged 36, from Galway said: “We have been working towards this for a long time, some of us have been waiting for this moment since we started with Special Olympics. For some it has been years, but for everyone it has been hard work to get here.
“We would like to say thank you to the people who have made all of this possible for us. This team got together for the first time back in October and we have had many training sessions since then; we have got to know each other and our coaches and learn more about our sports and how to train for a World Games. Some of the guys on the team have been to a World Games before but a lot of us are new to the international stage and it’s a bit scary. We promise to do our very best in Abu Dhabi and ask that you continue to support us and follow us on the journey; hopefully there will be lots to celebrate along the way.”
Ahead of the official launch, President Michael D Higgins sent a message of support to Team Ireland athletes. “Being chosen to represent your country on the international stage is a great honour indeed. It is a tribute, not only to your great talent as athletes, but also to your dedication, hard work and perseverance; qualities which make you inspirational role models and admirable ambassadors for Ireland.
“I thank you for your commitment to representing our country so proudly on the international stage and assure you that, as you travel to Abu Dhabi, you bring with you the support and goodwill of all of the people of Ireland. May I wish each and every one of you every success and many precious moments of enjoyment and happiness at the 2019 Games. May I also commend those who have encouraged and assisted you on your journey to date including your coaches and family members.
“I have no doubt that Ireland’s great reputation at the World Summer Games will be further enhanced by Team Ireland’s performance in Abu Dhabi, and that you will make us very proud indeed. Special Olympics Ireland is first and foremost a sports organisation and charity that supports children and adults with intellectual disabilities. As the countdown to the World Games gets under way, Special Olympics Ireland is calling on the business community and individuals to help them raise much-needed funds to send the athletes to Abu Dhabi. To cover the cost of sending Team Ireland to the Games, Special Olympics needs to raise a total of €455,000 (€5,000 per athlete ).
Emma McMenamin, head of delegation for Team Ireland, added: “These athletes are extremely focused and determined and like any athlete facing into a major competition, they are putting 100 per cent into their training. It was great to see how excited the athletes are to be part of this huge event. To represent Team Ireland and compete on the world stage in Abu Dhabi is a big honour and one these Special Olympics athletes are not taking lightly.”