91 Team Ireland athletes – including four from Co. Wicklow – began their journey to Abu Dhabi ahead of the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games. Excitement was in the air at Dublin Airport as athletes from across Ireland boarded their flight, with dreams of success in their various sports.
Taking place between 14-21 March, Abu Dhabi 2019 will be the largest sporting and humanitarian event in the world this year. Supported by a volunteer management team of 39, the 91-strong Team Ireland will join 7,000 Special Olympics athletes from 170 countries at the Games. With 350 family and friends also making the trip to support their loved ones, Ireland is set to be one of the best supported nations at the Games. Second only to the United States, this wealth of encouragement is certain to give Team Ireland the edge as they step up to compete.
The Co. Wicklow athletes will represent Team Ireland in four sports.
World Games veteran, Aisling Beacom (38) from Wicklow Town, who has competed in several Special Olympics World Games, including Athens 2011, where she won a silver and bronze medal, is Abu Dhabi bound this March. The swimmer, who helped to set up the Blue Dolphins Special Olympics Club in Wicklow Town, which she attends, will compete in the Open Water Swim for Team Ireland.
Rukky Atiyota (18) from Delgany, who is also a member of the Blue Dolphins Special Olympics Club, will compete in Basketball. Meanwhile, Paul Condren (30) from Bray will compete in Football and Padraig Reilly (37) from Hollywood, Co. Wicklow will represent Team Ireland in Tenpin Bowling.
The Wicklow athletes are joined by fellow Team Ireland athletes from right across the island of Ireland, who will compete in a total of 12 sports: athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, kayaking, swimming and table tennis.
Team Ireland will prepare for their World Games experience with a visit to Dubai as part of the Host Town programme. During this time, the athletes have an opportunity to acclimatise to their surroundings with a range of cultural events and activities before the official Opening Ceremony on Thursday 14 March.
The Opening Ceremony, which will take place at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium, is set to be a spectacular celebration of humanity at its best. More than 40,000 spectators will witness 170 nations take place in a celebratory parade, with the athletes being accompanied by a number of international celebrities including singer and Special Olympics Global Ambassador, Nicole Scherzinger.
The World Games run until 21 March. Team Ireland will compete in 12 different Olympic style sports at the World Games, with a total of 24 counties represented on Team Ireland.
Matt English, CEO Special Olympics Ireland said: “I am extremely proud of each and every one of our athletes who will represent Special Olympics Ireland at the 2019 World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi. Each of these athletes has demonstrated dedication, discipline and skill in their various sports in order to reach this level of sporting competition, and that itself is worthy of celebration. They are paving the way for the nearly 8,000 Special Olympics athletes training in clubs across Ireland. They are all winners in our eyes, and it is a remarkable achievement not only for the athletes, but also for their coaches, families and volunteers.”
Emma McMenamin, Head of Delegation, Special Olympics Ireland said: “It is a real honour for these athletes to be selected to represent Team Ireland at the Special Olympics World Summer Games and we feel an immense sense of pride as they depart on a once in a lifetime adventure to Abu Dhabi. We encourage the nation to get behind the team in the coming weeks by following their progress on social media and sharing messages of support.”
To keep up to date with Team Ireland’s preparations for the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, follow Special Olympics Ireland on Twitter, @SOIreland and Facebook, facebook.com/SpecialOlympicsIreland and follow the hashtags, #TeamIreland and #PlayYourPart.