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Who we are > Our mission, vision and history

Our mission, vision and history

Wendy Quinn, Colin Bailey and Grant Quinn

The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with an intellectual disability, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

Our Vision

Our vision is to build the programmes offered by Special Olympics New Zealand so that every person with a learning disability has the opportunity, in their local community, to participate in high quality sport and development activities that bring life-changing experiences of increased skills, self-confidence and joy.

Our History

Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to more than 3.7 million athletes in over 170 countries in all regions of the world, providing year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programs.

Visit Special Olympics website.

Our Founders - Grant and Wendy Quinn

‘From small beginnings come great things’. This adage is certainly true of Special Olympics New Zealand.

In the early 1980s, Lower Hutt-based insurance broker Grant Quinn began training Colin Bailey, an athlete with Down Syndrome, along with mainstream swimmers at the Huia Pool. By chance an exchange student from USA was at the pool one day and asked if Colin was training for Special Olympics. This question sparked a community effort led by Grant to establish a New Zealand branch of the worldwide sports movement.

Together with his wife Wendy, Grant recruited three other swimmers who had intellectual disabilities along with Colin Bailey to form an ad hoc Special Olympics New Zealand team. With the help of community fundraising, the team journeyed to the 1983 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.

Grant returned from the trip inspired. He took leave from work and devoted the next two years to establishing Special Olympics New Zealand. He visited with mayors in different towns, contacted celebrities and key sports figures such as John Walker, Sir Edmund Hillary, Rod Dixon, and Stu Wilson, , Rod Dixon  gaining valuable support from around the country. By 1985 Grant had encouraged all the regions around New Zealand to participate in the inaugural Special Games in Lower Hutt that year, as well as teams from Tasmania, Australia and a small team from New Caledonia (672 athletes in all). The Auckland team was even accompanied by its Mayor (Dame) Catherine Tizard (a testament to the relationships Grant had forged in the regions).

Through drive and perseverance Grant and Wendy created a national sports training movement for people with intellectual disabilities. Unlike many volunteers who work with Special Olympics globally, Grant and Wendy do not have a family member with an intellectual disability. Their motivation was not driven by a personal need, rather their desire to create something of benefit for the community.

Grant and Wendy have continued their involvement with Special Olympics New Zealand throughout the past 30 years. Grant acted as a Trustee of Special Olympics New Zealand in its early days, and went on to become Games Director of the 2005 Special Olympics New Zealand National Summer Games and Asia Pacific Invitation Games held in Christchurch in the same year.

Special Olympics New Zealand owes its existence to Grant and Wendy Quinn. From a very small beginning, providing four athletes with the chance to compete internationally, Grant and Wendy have created the leading  National Sporting Organisation for people with intellectual disabilities  and have transformed the lives of more than 6,500 athletes, their families throughout New Zealand and the 3,000 dedicated volunteers that support them. 

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The four founding athletes of Special Olympics New Zealand. Left to right: Peter Spijkerman, Colin Bailey (with goggles), Brent Busy and Gordon Llewellyn.

Special Olympics New Zealand is accredited by Special Olympics. Through an affiliation process, Clubs throughout the country deliver programmes at the community level. Clubs are supported by the national office and a team of Regional Sports Coordinators.

Representatives from the Clubs sit on the organisation's five Regional Councils. The Council Chair (or nominee) represent the Council on the Special Olympics New Zealand Board. 

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