There were emotional scenes at Dublin Airport recently as the 91-strong Team Ireland squad – including 21 from Ulster - returned home to a heroes’ welcome from the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi.
The team were carrying some serious excess baggage with a sensational haul of 86 medals (30 gold, 29 silver and 27 bronze).
In the local area alone Richard Currie (23) from Dungannon, scooped Gold in the Bocce (team) and Bocce (singles) while Lee Mitchell (21) from Omagh got Gold in the equestrian, English Equitation and Trails.
Meanwhile Richard also got Silver in the Bocce (doubles) joined by teammate Matthew Brennan (35) from Ardrahan and Shannon Nixon (21) from Coalisland brought home a Bronze medla for her Athletics, 25m run.
Greeted by rapturous applause from family, friends and fans, who turned out in huge numbers from right across the country, the athletes also returned with friendships and memories to last a lifetime.
Matt English, CEO, Special Olympics Ireland said: “The incredible achievements of our athletes over the last week has resulted in a ripple of pride across the country, as so many people – both at home and around the world – have followed their journey. The medals, ribbons and personal bests they achieved were beyond all expectations but it was their energy, passion and pride that captured people’s hearts. Special Olympics is about more than just medals; these Games were a life-changing experience for our athletes and for everyone involved.
“We would also like to thank the volunteers, coaches, staff and families that have played such an important role in these Games, and in supporting our athletes to get to this point. Special Olympics is a volunteer led programme and these Games, as well as the year-round programme of sport offered in clubs right across the island, would not be possible without the passion, dedication and valued support of our volunteers.
“As we look beyond these Games, we need more volunteers to join us to support future Special Olympics champions, and we are calling on all those that have been inspired by our athletes, to get in touch.”
Anyone can help support future champions within special Olympics by volunteering for the Special Olympics Annual Collection Day this Friday, April 5.
For information, visit www.specialolympics.ie.
Special Olympics Ireland would also like to thank the many sponsors who have helped make these Games a reality especially Sport Ireland, Sport NÍ, eir, Gala, Kerry Group, Iris O’Brien Foundation and Datapac.
Connect with Special Olympics Ireland and Special Olympics Ulster on Twitter, @SOIreland @SO_Ulster and Facebook, facebook.com/SpecialOlympicsIreland