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Graeme Bain: 26 years with Special Olympics

Graeme talks about the many joys of his time helping athletes discover the joy of sports.

Graeme Bain: 26 years with SONZ

After 26 years supporting thousands of kids and adults with intellectual disabilities to share in the joy of sports, recent retiree and Canterbury local Graeme Bain is hanging up his Special Olympics cap. 

Graeme is known to many as a seasoned coach, a stalwart of inclusivity, all round good guy and a Special Olympics New Zealand (SONZ) Regional Sports Coordinator, supporting 7 of SONZ’s 42 clubs currently providing sports training and competition to over 5000 athletes across New Zealand. 

It all started in 1992 when despite not knowing anything about Special Olympics, Graeme was approached at the family homeware store to support the Special Olympics Canterbury club’s fundraisers, and his involvement snowballed from there. 

“A lady from Special Olympics Canterbury, found out I was a basketballer and asked if I’d be keen to coach. I said no, I was playing basketball seriously at the time and had a bit on my plate, but in 1995 I relented and said yes.” 

10 years later Graeme had become a much beloved basketball coach and led his team to many National and International competitions where he realised the extent of the global Special Olympics programme. 

“I went to the National Summer Games in 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009 right through to 2017, but in 1999 I went to the North Carolina World Games with the basketball team I coached and that had a huge impact on me, seeing the extent of this what world-wide organisation does.” 

Graeme (2nd on the bottom row) and his team at the North Carolina World Games

Throughout his time coaching Graeme helped countless athletes realise their potential and discover the joy of sports. Canterbury athlete Carlton from the Abu Dhabi 2019 World Games team shared a message with Graeme expressing his gratitude. 

“I’m so grateful to have known someone like Graeme. When I first came into Special Olympics Basketball I felt out of place and there was a time when I was gonna give up. But you managed to convince me to give it another try and I did, and I just wanted to say that you telling me to come back and give it a go is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.” 

In 2005 Graeme decided he wanted to do more and became the SONZ Regional Sports Coordinator for the Upper South Island. In the 16 years that’s followed Graeme helped start the Special Olympics school programme, helped the start-up of new clubs including Special Olympics West Coast and has loved seeing athletes thrive through year-round sports training and competition. 

“I’ve loved it, it’s been really great seeing the younger kids grow to be men and women playing their sport and you can’t help but see the impact sport has and the friends they make and how their confidence grows.” 

Graeme with the North Canterbury athletics team after a successful tournament

After 26 years of building strong relationships with his clubs Graeme is now finding it hard to say goodbye and wants to thank all the volunteers he works with for their huge commitment to Special Olympics. 

“These are people who have regular day jobs who give up their time to be on committees, take positions of office, coach, volunteer, and many of them have children who are athletes which means they are a parent full-time as well. I want to tell them thank you for all you do, volunteers are amazing people, their commitment is huge and the athletes benefit from it enormously.” 

Special Olympics West Coast volunteer Jenny Green says Graeme will be missed terribly by all. 

“He has a wealth of knowledge and he is very good at supporting all members of the Special Olympic family, be it a non-verbal athlete, an anxious parent or a harassed event coordinator. At all times Graeme has been approachable, kind and patient.”  

“Graeme always had a mantra of ‘athletes first, what is best for them’. On the West Coast we have adopted this mantra and it stands us in good stead for the future. Coastwide, we will miss Graeme’s ability as a Regional Coordinator but we will miss his warmth, positivity and generous nature the most.” Jenny says.

As for the future, Graeme plans on improving his golf game and spending time with his wife and children. He has promised to stay in touch with all his countless friends in Special Olympics New Zealand.

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Some of our clubs and athletes put together a thank you video for Graeme, you can view it here 

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March 2022 Fanletter