16 May 2023

Calling all good sports - volunteers needed to keep South Coast Special Olympics Club on the road

| Katrina Condie
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South Coast medal winners at the Campbelltown State Tenpin Bowling Competition in 2022. Photo: Special Olympics South Coast.

Members of the South Coast Special Olympics Club are punching above their weight, scooping ribbons and medals at regional, state and even at a national level.

With 26 members from Ulladulla to the Victorian border, the South Coast club is run by volunteers who coach, mentor, supervise and drive the athletes to training and competitions around the state.

South Coast Special Olympics Club chair Kathy Godwin says there’s nothing better than seeing the smile on an athlete’s face when they win a ribbon or medal in their chosen event.

“It’s just joyous watching these guys’ faces. You can see a real sense of achievement and pride at being good at their own level,” she says.

During National Volunteer Week, 15-21 May, Kathy is putting the call out for community members to assist local athletes with intellectual disabilities in achieving their dreams.

“We especially need volunteers willing to help transport our athletes to training and perhaps some competitions,” she said.

“We have a 12-seater Ford Transit van, which only requires a C-class licence. There is not a huge commitment in time required, but the rewards of being with our athletes are immeasurable.

“When we get new volunteers in, and they see the pride and the big smiles, they’re hooked.”

As part of the Special Olympics network, the club provides a range of sport, recreation, social and health opportunities for people with an intellectual disability.

With the help of volunteer accredited coaches, South Coast athletes currently train and compete in tenpin bowling, swimming, tennis and basketball. There’s scope for other sports, such as golf, to be included if there are enough volunteers.

Kathy says, by participating in sport and taking part in competitions against people at their own level, the athletes have fun, gain self-esteem, demonstrate courage and make new friends.

She has watched her own daughter, Liz, thrive as she has competed in swimming, basketball and tenpin bowling over a 20-year period. Now aged 36, Liz lives independently and works at Yumaro and in the kitchen at the Adelaide Hotel in Moruya, and also helps out in the local public school canteen.

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Kathy says taking part in the Special Olympics has provided a wonderful opportunity for Liz to keep fit and build a network of friends all over the state. A highlight was winning a silver medal in basketball at the national championships.

Another athlete, Cameron, has recently returned to the club at the age of 50 and is excelling in tenpin bowling and swimming.

Over the years, the South Coast has had three athletes compete at an international level in three different sports.

“The Special Olympics provides a pathway to success, and even small clubs like ours can represent Australia,” Kathy said.

Membership dropped off during the COVID pandemic, and last year there were only six members, so Kathy was pleased to see numbers exploding and says new faces are always welcome.

“It’s really, really wonderful,” she said.

“We will always welcome new athletes and volunteers … we’re family.”

Athletes currently play basketball at Moruya, with ten-pin bowling at Merimbula and Ulladulla as well as swimming at the Bay Pavilions. There are plans to also include swimming at the Ulladulla Leisure Centre.

This month, members will compete in a regional basketball competition at Maitland, and in July they will travel to the Shellharbour lanes. If a driver can be found, athletes will also compete in a swim meet in Kurri Kurri on the same weekend. The state bowling championships will be held in Campbelltown in August.

Athletes must compete at regional competitions to be eligible for state, and then national, events.

One of the biggest hurdles for the club is finding enough volunteers who have the flexibility to drive, coach or supervise the athletes as there is a requirement for one supervisor for every four athletes. Parents and carers aren’t always available for events.

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Athletes aged eight years or older with an intellectual disability can join the club. They just need a health assessment and a letter from their GP. Volunteers must have a Working with Children Check and Kathy explained they need to have empathy, patience and an understanding of communicating with people with an intellectual disability.

The Special Olympics began in Australia in 1976 when many people with an intellectual disability were shut in institutions. Providing opportunities to play sport opens the door to personal achievement, pride and inclusion for some of the marginalised and isolated members of our community.

Special Olympics Australia has 17,000 participants playing 18 sports across 45 clubs and the organisation has bid to host the World Games in Perth in 2027.

Kathy said the local group was self-funded and regularly held fundraisers outside IGA supermarkets in the region. The local IGA network is also a big supporter of the club.

To see what the team is up to, or get involved with Special Olympics South Coast, check out its website or follow its Facebook page.

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