Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Special Olympics

BBC Four once again fulfilled its role to inform and educate by recently broadcasting a programme about the "Special Olympics".

Part of the Olympic movement, but separate to the "ordinary" Olympics and the Paralympics, the Special Olympics is for athletes who have learning difficulties. The programme, titled "I Love Special Olympics" was narrated and directed by Thomas Leader and followed four people on their Special Olympics journey:

Hannah Dempsey, 24, has Downs Syndrome and is a gymnast and dancer who performed in the opening ceremony.

Oliver Everest, 19, who is autistic and blind in one eye - and is a Special Olympics Judo World Champion

Jonathan Frett, 45, suffered brain damage as a child due to measles - and is a medal-winning Ten-Pin Bowler

Tom Brownsword, 17, has aspergers, hates crowds and finds it difficult to mix in a team - yet won Bronze at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens

Thomas narrated how the spectrum of disabilities for competitors at the Special Olympics can range from people who live everyday lives to those who require a lifetime of specialist support.

The programme was allowed to develop at its own pace, and really gave an insight into the Special Olympics movement and the feeling of the athletes - who work just as hard as other Olympians to reach their full potential.

One aspect of the programme that really tore at BFTF's heart was the story of Jonathan - his mother explained how she had used a borrowed pushchair once when visiting relatives - but what Jonathan's Mum didn't know was that this pushchair was being used for a child who had measles - which Jonathan then caught and which was the cause of his brain damage. Clearly feeling partly responsible (as any parent would - even though it was not at all her "fault") she commented that the effort she put into his Special Olympics competitions and training was her "repayment to him"

Lawrie Mcmenemy, president Special Olympics GB, commented that "When I got involved I thought it was the Paralympics and I soon learnt how big it is - in America it is bigger than the Paralympics"

And it was great to see "ordinary" Olympians such as gymnast Beth Tweddle, being part of the coaching team for the Special Olympics competitors.

Special Olympics GB formed in 1978 as part of the global Special Olympics Movement, and currently supports 135 Special Olympics clubs in Great Britain, run by over 2,800 volunteers, and involving 8,000 athletes.

The website gives some context for the movement by pointing out that there are an estimated 1.2 million people in Great Britain with a learning disability. A further 200 babies with learning disabilities are born each week.

And Special Olympics GB has high hopes, aiming, by 2013, to grow the programme from 8,000 to 20,000 athletes and from 2,800 to 6,500 volunteers.

This is part of a three-part series on the Olympics:
Comparison of Olypmpic and Paralympic Team Sizes
Olypmics and Paralympics 2012
The Special Olympics

Sent email to BBC thanking them for raising awarenesss of the Special Olympics by airing this programme and for the tone of the programme itself, which gave the time and space for people to tell their stories.

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