Supporters take Gary to their hearts in his moment of glory

ON another afternoon of uplifting stories, Gary Durkin touched the heart of many inside the RDS. Gary was one of the Connacht athletes in the Motor Activities event yesterday. Of everything going on in the RDS, Motor Activities is perhaps the most humbling.

Designed for athletes not yet acquired the necessary skills to participate in competitive sport, it gives them a chance to, as one athlete put it, “show the world what they can do.”

Gary was competing at level 2 in the ball lift, but the sense of occasion, the venue was crammed all day, got the better of him. Shyness and nerves bettered him. Or did they? Encouraged by his family and coach, Gary was enticed to try again. This time, he succeed and the crowd basked with him in his moment of glory.

Gary’s story is a microcosm of what the Motor Activities programme tries to achieve. Although, the ultimate aim of the event is for athletes to progress to competing in lower ability sports, as one coach said yesterday, “getting this far is an achievement for them. Anything further than this is a bonus.”

Many of the athletes competing in Motor Activites suffer from more than one disability. Autusim, for example, is common among some of the athletes. “This is an outlet for each of them to be athletic,” says Treasa McMahon, head coach of the Connacht division.

“The athletes here suffer form low and moderate to severe disabilities and most of them would not suffer from a single disability. So, to get this far is a massive thing for them. And with motor activities, the coach plays such a big part. Obviously, with level 1 and level 2, there is assistance allowed from the coaches. But, any change that happens during the training, it is up to the coach to ensure their athlete feels comfortable with it.”

Which brings us to the story of Lorraine Garvey. Lorraine left the RDS with two medals yesterday. She did so with a technique that was developed only six weeks ago. After months of perfecting the log roll, she felt it was all becoming a little mundane for her. As an event, the log roll is hoped to progress the athlete on to lower level ability in gymnastics.

“Her coach had to change the whole programme only six weeks ago,” Paul McGarry, coach with Connacht, said. “She was becoming a little too technical in her style, she was becoming a little over-confident and doing it wrong. So, her whole style was changed, but it didn’t affect her out there. Everything went smoothly.”

Boredom can be a common complaint of the athletes. Carmel Killgallon was coach to Eamon Killeen, a Portumna athlete, who won medals for his efforts in the Ball Kick and the Bean Bag lift.

Eamon competed at level 2 in this event, which meant Carmel had to give him a verbal prompt. But, he was on his best behaviour on the day he became an Olympian. “Eamon is autistic and because of that, mixing with people can be difficult. But, he has been terrific since he came here, attended the opening ceremony and there is going to be a big function when we get back to Portumna.”

Eamon was from St Dymna’s training programme, who were somewhat out-shouted by the 100-strong contingent from Cregg House who saw some of their best athletes, like Clodagh Gallagher, become overnight stars, in the bean bag lift. In a Games about surmounting odds, the Motor Events tend to leave a lasting impression. Each story touches. Before the day ended in the RDS, James Walsh came forward to kick the ball. He had never had the opportunity to play sports before the Special Olympics and was determined to show the world what he could do. It was a nice way for the day to end. James, wearing a medal, a superstar.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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