Trembling with excitement the athletes nervously walk through the entrance to the Olympic ramp as the name of their beloved country is enthusiastically announced across the microphone.
The athletes enter the stadium to a crowd of thousands of waving arms, roaring cheers and ecstatic clapping. Lights in all different colours flash across the stadium. Giant screens, strategically placed, display their faces for all to see. Up beat music blares and marches them to the beat.
Unable to believe it, the athletes eyes well with tears, faces express smiles larger than ever before, hearts brim full of pride and their steps grow more confident with each stride. Their green and gold uniforms shimmer as these world class athletes show themselves to be the confident, persistent, high achievers that they are.
They had made it. This was the Special Olympics World Games, Greece 2011.
The parents and families in the crowd looked on with elation and pride. Little did they know years ago, when their children were given the diagnosis of intellectually disabled, that there would be so much hope for them. That these people who, in the past, have been rejected, ridiculed and hidden away by society, could be given the opportunity to excel, develop, and achieve to a world class level.
These are the things that make mankind a beautiful thing. And it is all thanks to the fantastic volunteers and workers who make an organisation called Special Olympics thrive.
One such person is Margaret Robertson. Margaret has been living on the Sunshine Coast training basketball teams for Special Olympics at the Goodlife Community Centre for almost 20 years. Although she had trained basketball groups for years prior to this, she never in a million years thought she would be coaching world class teams and taking them to the Special Olympics World Games.
It all started when, after travelling with a Queensland State team in 1993, Queensland Basketball asked her if she would be interested in working with the intellectually disabled.
Margaret accepted without hesitation and hasn’t looked back.
“I wouldn’t go back to what I was doing even if you paid me,” she says with laughter in her eyes. “I love it so much. You just need patience and understanding.”
Margaret has travelled far and wide with Special Olympic teams to places such as Shanghai, Ireland and Greece (just to name a few). It was such an honour for her, after being chosen to coach the Australian team for the Greece games in 2011, to once again be chosen for the Special Olympics World Games to be held in Los Angeles in June 2015.
Preparations went into full swing once the team was hand picked in late 2014 during the Regional Games in Melbourne. Queensland Basketball was quick to get behind them and provide uniforms. Arrangements were made for training camps and fundraising efforts swung into action.
It’s a busy time for Margaret but she thrives on it. Each athlete is so excited and has worked very hard to get to where they are. They prove beyond a doubt that intellectual disability is not a disabler. In fact, these athletes develop abilities that many people could only dream of.
“I just love them,” says Margaret. “To see the joy on their faces when they achieve something or learn something new… they just want to tell me all about it.”
It is easy to see the joy Margaret feels for her appointment in working with these amazing people. Her eyes light up when she speaks of them. When she walks into the stadium, the athletes run to hug her. She has a connection with each and every one of them and still keeps in contact with all the athletes she has worked with in the past.
“It’s so exciting to hear what they are doing. I have been invited to one lovely girl’s wedding this year. She sent me photos of her ring to show me when she got engaged.”
“The community centre where they train is so welcoming of them. The kids feel appreciated, accepted, loved and encouraged here,” says Margaret. “I only wish more parents with intellectually disabled children knew of it. We cater for those diagnosed with things such as Down syndrome, autism, Asperger syndrome and ADD. All are welcome.”
With only a few months to go (at the time of this interview) until the next world games, Margaret is keen to get the Australian team back together to prepare for the big event. We wish Margaret and the Special Olympics Team Australia all the best.
First published in the Goodlife Magazine Winter 2015 edition:
(c) rebecca moore 2015