Special Olympics New Zealand has won 16 medals and counting at the 11th Special Olympics World Winter Games.
The athletes, who all have an intellectual disability, are competing alongside more than 2,600 Special Olympics athletes from over 105 countries at the Games in Austria and is the largest sporting event to be held in 2017.
The Games kicked off with the Opening Ceremony on 18 March, 2017 where New Zealand impressed the crowd with their rousing Haka. Then it was straight into competition for our skiers competing in the Intermediate Super G, with Rachel Oemcke (Special Olympics Manawatu) and Cameron Jarvis (Special Olympics Horowhenua) picking up Gold and Rebecca Heath (Special Olympics Upper Hutt) a bronze medal. Day two was the snowboarders turn, with Jarrod Gilbert (Special Olympics Te Awamutu) taking Gold and Kaa Dekker (Special Olympics Auckland) bronze.
The athletes have just competed in Day Three of competition, and once again had a successful day on the slopes, with a total of 11 medals being won across skiing and snowboarding (see medal list).
Even more impressive than the medal tally is the courage and commitment each and every athlete has shown, every single one of them has achieved a personal best performance, even though things have not always gone to plan. Nathan Symister of Otago lost a ski halfway through the course, rather than face a disqualification, Nathan completed the entire course on one ski. Rachel Oemcke of Manawatu fell during her Giant Slalom race, however she persevered to get her ski back on and complete the race. It is these displays of bravery that set Special Olympics athletes apart from the rest.
The athletes are supported by a dedicated team of management and coaches who are kept busy preparing gear, attending meetings and supporting the athletes in all areas. For many it is their first time overseas which alone, can be extremely challenging, especially in a country where English is not the first language. Many family member and friends have also made the trip to Austria to give their support. “The team has been absolutely inspiring and it is a privilege to be a part of such a courageous and dedicated team. Austria is a magical location with the weather often spring like, great for wearing t-shirts but not always good for competition! We set high goals for our athletes and really push them to achieve their personal bests, each and every athlete has responded to this and achieved far more than we could have hoped for. We have another two days of competition so are looking forward to supporting those athletes still to compete”, says Brian Benn, Head of Delegation.