This much I know: Mary Davis

My worst habit is trying to fit too much into one day.

It’s always a problem. Ask anyone who has worked with me.

The highlight of my career so far was the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games, held in Dublin. I was the organiser and my abiding memory is one of joy and pride at the achievements of everyone concerned.

The logistics were daunting — 165 countries, 10,000 athletes, 65 venues, 32,000 volunteers and €60 million to raise. It was only doable by breaking it down into separate segments. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were complete projects in themselves.

I studied Physical Education after I left school and got a scholarship to Alberta. When I returned to Ireland I started working at St Michael’s House, an organisation for people with intellectual disabilities, which is how I got involved with The Special Olympics as a volunteer.

I find working with people with intellectual disability an uplifting experience. They are full of fun and tend to see the positive side of life. That enthusiasm rubs off on someone like me. My motivation was to change perceptions towards people with disability and to ensure that they get the chance to live as fulfilled lives as possible.

One of our biggest challenges was the outbreak of SARS five weeks before the games. It was a serious health scare. So much work and training had been put in that the thought of some of the athletes not being able to attend was devastating. Through massive amounts of collaboration and communication at every level — with the medics, the governments and the World Health Organisation — we put emergency plans in place and at end of day it worked. Everyone came. It showed me how it is possible to overcome major challenges.

My first ever paid job was as a chambermaid in Bundoran during the school holidays aged 16. It was my first time living away from home and I loved it.

Putting myself forward for the Presidency of Ireland is not something I took lightly. I want to play a leadership role in making change happen, to inspire reform and renewal at home whilst rebuilding our place in the wider world. I stand for fairness, for giving opportunity and choice to people.

I believe in helping to change lives — that’s what I’ve been doing all my working life. I also have a wealth of experience on the international stage. I’m heartened by the support I have got so far although it’s tough as an independent.

I love exercise. I find running particularly liberating as there are no constraints — all you need are your shoes and some space. I have run marathons and intend to run more. I climbed Kilimanjaro with my husband Julian immediately after the World Games.

I’ve seen huge positive changes in how society and the media react to and portray people with intellectual disability. 20 years ago it was difficult to get any press coverage for our events, or the National Games would be held and nobody would turn up. The next challenge is to break down barriers and change attitudes further afield.

I grew up in Mayo and my earliest memory is going to Kinaffe National School in the winter. There was a roaring fire and we were allowed to bring our milk up to warm it. If it was particularly cold, we were also allowed to drag our little desks closer.

Nelson Mandela and Eunice Kennedy Shriver are amongst my heroes. When I met Mandela I was struck by his ease around other people. I admire Kennedy Shriver because she never took no for an answer.

* Mary Davis serves as the Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia and also serves as Chairperson of Special Olympics Ireland. She is running for the Irish Presidency.

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