World champion ambassador starts the 100-day countdown to Special Olympics World Games

World champion trampolinist and Olympic medallist Dylan Schmidt was officially unveiled as the new ambassador for Special Olympics New Zealand to mark today’s (March 9) 100-day countdown to the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin in June.

“Our team of 39 athletes is in the final stage of their preparation to compete in Berlin and it is a wonderful boost for the team to get the support from Dylan who knows all about performing on the biggest stage,” says Rowena Massey, Head of Delegation for the New Zealand team.

Over 7000 athletes from 150 countries will compete across 24 sports from June 17-25 in this four-yearly pinnacle event for athletes with an intellectual disability.

Schmidt has been involved with Special Olympics for many years and says he is honoured to be asked to become the official ambassador for the organisation.

“I have always wanted to help to give people with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to play sport and to compete against each other, just like I have done in my sporting career,” says the star trampolinist who won his first world title last year, after also claiming a bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Massey says that Special Olympics New Zealand could not have hoped for a better ambassador with so much understanding for a segment of sports people that often fly under the radar and don’t get the attention they deserve.

“Our athletes train just as hard and are just as committed as high-performance athletes, and often have to overcome huge barriers even just to get to the starting line,” says the chef-de-mission for Berlin. 

New Special Olympics Ambassador Dylan Schmidt meets parts of the New Zealand team for the World Summer Games. From left, swimmer Bella Lammers (Canterbury), Dylan Schmidt, tenpin bowler Shanae Dean (Counties)

Schmidt has had a strong connection with people with intellectual disabilities since an early age through his mother Jen, who has been working in the special needs sector for most of her life.

“So I have been part of that world since I was young and later started volunteering at some events where I would get people to try out the trampoline. The athletes really get into it and most times the hardest thing is to get them off the trampoline,” says the double Olympian who hopes trampolining will one day be part of Special Olympics as well.

The 26-year-old says the way Special Olympics athletes experience their events is an example for other sports people.

“In my competitions things can sometimes get pretty intense, so it was wonderful to see really committed athletes who were also there to have fun and make friends. And that’s what sport is all about.”

Tenpin bowler Shanae Dean shows off her medal from the National Summer Games to new Special Olympics ambassador Dylan Schmidt

Massey says that some of the selected athletes have travelled overseas before, but most would not have been away from their whānau for such an extended period.

“The World Summer Games are not just a highlight in their lives, but can in fact be life-changing. We know from previous World Games that athletes come home with new confidence and independence that translates into other parts of their life, like employment or their social life,” says the Head of Delegation.

In preparation to the World Summer Games, the New Zealand delegation will be hosted by the city of Garching on the outskirts of Munich from June 12-15. From there, they will move into the Athletes’ Village in Berlin ahead of the opening ceremony on June 17.

Special Olympics New Zealand board chair Al Robson says that getting someone of the calibre of Dylan Schmidt on board is a great step forward for the organisation to grow the awareness around athletes with intellectual disabilities.

“Special Olympics does not have the profile like some other sports, but with someone like Dylan by their side, we hope that other New Zealanders will come out and support this amazing team going to Berlin.”

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