It’s a Special kind of feeling at these stars of Norfolk head to Summer Games in Sheffield
- Credit: Archant
When Katie Warrent was a baby, her parents were told it was unlikely she would ever be able to walk. Twenty years later she is not only walking, but running, throwing and jumping too. And soon she will take part in a national sports competition where winning is truly about living life to the full.
Katie, who lives in Norwich, was born with the very rare Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome that causes learning difficulties and general disabilities. She has come a long way since that early gloomy prognosis. And getting involved with Special Olympics Norfolk (SON), the local branch of an international sporting movement for people with intellectual disabilities, has put a real spring in her step.
'All her life we told her not to run in case she falls over because she dislocates very easily,' said Katie's mum Joanne. Now there is no stopping the 22-year-old, whose speciality is softball throwing and who also takes part in running and long jump events.
She is one of 28 Norfolk athletes heading to Sheffield on August 7 for the four-yearly Special Olympics GB National Summer Games – four days of competition in track and field, swimming, gymnastics, football and boccia (a petanque-style game). They are part of a near 200-strong Eastern Region team.
SON athletes like Katie have inspiring individual stories of struggle and challenges. They also possess courage and determination to do their best and share their enjoyment with team-mates, family and supporters.
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The Norfolk squad's age range is 42 years – from Stephen Eastaugh of Long Stratton, 55, who is competing in 100m, softball and long jump events, to 13-year-old Brundall swimmer Lucy Noble.
It includes a seven-man football team that trains at Carrow Road as part of the Community Sports Foundation football programme. The side formed 18 months ago specifically to take part in the national games and other Special Olympics events.
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This will be a first national games for almost all Norfolk's competitors.
Cameron Lain (100m, long jump and mini javelin) has been with SON for only a year but has high hopes of medal success. The 22-year-old from Costessey is already a prolific winner at county and regional level and has boundless energy.
His mother Mandy said: 'He runs everywhere, never walks.' Stepfather Steve added: 'Being interactive with his peers has helped Cameron's social development and opened up opportunities for him to meet new people. He just loves doing athletics and being part of the team.'
Family and friendship are at the heart of the Special Olympics experience.
Norwich couple Robin Tatton, 41, and Catherine Meijer, 32, became partners in boccia and in life after meeting at a wedding. Catherine was already a skilled exponent of the game, in which her mother Ann is a coach, and inspired Robin to take it up too. Both came away with gold medals from a recent regional competition and Robin is a member of the England boccia squad.
Brother and sister Shane and Keziah Baxter, also from Norwich, are taking part in artistic gymnastic and swimming events respectively. Shane, 18, has high expectations on his first venture into national competition.
'I'm doing all the apparatuses and I'm hoping to bring back six gold medals,' he said.
He trains at Long Stratton Gymnastics Club alongside another strong medal contender, Evie Rodwell from Diss.
Although only 15, Evie is one of the most experienced squad members, regularly competing alongside mainstream gymnasts as well as at national and international Down's Syndrome championships. This will be her second national games. Last time she brought back five silvers, so is hoping to go gold this time.
Says mum Jo: 'There have been many tough times through which gymnastics has been one of the few positive aspects of her life to get us all through.
'It never ceases to amaze me how she comes alive, shining with confidence, whilst hundreds of strangers look on at these competitions.'
That's what Special Olympics does for these special people.
Getting 28 sportsmen and women from Norwich to Sheffield to compete at an athletics event may not seem too difficult a task – but the special needs of athletes with intellectual and physical disabilities mean preparation and support must be meticulously planned, organised and funded.
Special Olympics Norfolk is run entirely by volunteers and offers both summer and winter training and competition to around 100 athletes. Unlike Paralympics, which is for elite disabled sportspeople, Special Olympics is for all abilities and ages. Over £15,000 has been raised to send the Norfolk team to the national games. Support from clubs, charities, businesses and individuals is crucial to enable athletes to take part in activities that add enormously to their enjoyment of life.
Many members of the squad need assistance in their daily lives too. Katie Warrent, for instance, attends the Hamlet Centre, while others are supported by Assist Trust and NANSA, two Norwich-based charities.