All roads lead to Abu Dhabi for Irish athletes competing at Special Olympics

All roads lead to Abu Dhabi for Irish athletes competing at Special Olympics
Team Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

91 Irish athletes will travel to Abu Dhabi in March for the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

The final preparations are under way this week for Team Ireland who will join 7,000 athletes from 170 countries at the Games.

Athletes from across Ireland will compete in 12 sports: athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, kayaking, swimming and table tennis.

The team is supported by a volunteer management team of 39.

The team held their official launch on Friday, and President Michael D Higgins extended a message of support to the athletes.

"Being chosen to represent your country on the international stage is a great honour indeed," he said.

It is a tribute, not only to your great talent as athletes, but also to your dedication, hard work and perseverance; qualities which make you inspirational role models and admirable ambassadors for Ireland.

“I thank you for your commitment to representing our country so proudly on the international stage and assure you that, as you travel to Abu Dhabi, you bring with you the support and goodwill of all of the people of Ireland.

"May I wish each and every one of you every success and many precious moments of enjoyment and happiness at the 2019 Games. May I also commend those who have encouraged and assisted you on your journey to date including your coaches and family members.

“I have no doubt that Ireland’s great reputation at the World Summer Games will be further enhanced by Team Ireland’s performance in Abu Dhabi, and that you will make us very proud indeed," he said.

The Special Olympics will take place between March 14-21 and is set to be the biggest sporting and humanitarian event in the world this year.

The road to Abu Dhabi started four years ago, and Team Ireland swimmer, Michelle O’Keane, 36, from Galway, says it has taken a lot of hard work to get to the Games.

“We have been working towards this for a long time, some of us have been waiting for this moment since we started with Special Olympics," she said.

"For some it’s been years but for everyone it’s been hard work to get here.

“We would like to say thank you to the people who have made all of this possible for us.

"This team got together for the first time back in October and we have had many training sessions since then; we have gotten to know each other and our coaches and learn more about our sports and how to train for a World Games.

Some of the guys on the team have been to a World Games before but a lot of us are new to the International stage and it’s a bit scary.

"We promise to do our very best in Abu Dhabi and ask that you continue to support us and follow us on the journey; hopefully there will be lots to celebrate along the way," she said.

Emma McMenamin, Head of Delegation for Team Ireland added: “These athletes are extremely focused and determined and like any athlete facing into a major competition, they are putting 100% into their training.

"It was great to see how excited the athletes are to be part of this huge event. To represent Team Ireland and compete on the World Stage in Abu Dhabi is a big honour and one these Special Olympics athletes are not taking lightly," she said.

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