More than 150 swimmers today arrived in Limerick to compete in the World Down Syndrome Swimmers Championship.
The week-long event, hosted by Down Syndrome Ireland, has attracted teams from 17 different countries.
Competitors have travelled from as far as Tonga, Taiwan and Turkmenistan to race in the 50m swimming pool at the University Arena, University of Limerick.
All will battle to take a world medal home.
The swimmers have had to achieve strict qualifying times to be eligible for the competition, with many gaining times only marginally slower than those recorded by non-intellectually disabled competitive swimmers.
The Irish team of 16 boasts swimmers from Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Louth, Monaghan, Offaly and Westmeath.
“Following on from the achievements of the Special Olympics World Games in 2003, this world event will continue to showcase the considerable sporting talents of people with Down Syndrome,” said Limerick TD Willie O’Dea.
“I wish all the very best of luck and hope that their week-long stay in Limerick will provide some with a medal and all with a very memorable experience”.
The Minister for Defence was joined by members of an Garda Siochana and the defence forces to greet the swimmers, their coaches and families at the University of Limerick campus.
Down Syndrome Ireland has committed huge resources in attracting the championships. Some 500 swimmers, coaches and family members are to avail of Limerick and Irish hospitality.
It it hoped the swimmers’ strong performances will, in the future, give them eligibility to compete in the Paralympics.
“After many long months of preparation, it is fantastic to see all the swimmers arrive to University of Limerick,” added Michael McCormick, CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland. “Many organisations have helped us along the way and we are grateful for everyone’s support on both a local and national level.”
A host of events have been organised for the participants during the week including a ceili, a hurling demonstration, a trip to Bunratty Park and a gala dinner.