Special Olympics squad jet out for European challenge
More than 40 Irish athletes received an enthusiastic send off at Dublin Airport as they headed for the Special Olympics European Summer Games.
The Irish team will be among more than 2,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities competing at the games in Antwerp, Belgium.
Malahide teenager Darren Breen (15) will compete in freestyle and backstroke swimming events.
His parents, Michael and Mary Breen, were at the airport yesterday to wish him well.
"Darren is a second year pupil at Malahide Community School, where he attends special needs classes and mainstream classes, such as home economics, physical education, art, and life-skills," said his dad Michael.
"The school held a special assembly on Friday to wish him well. He got lots of cards from his fellow second year pupils," he said.
Brid Heeney (32), from Drogheda, will run in the 100 metres sprint and relay event and compete in the shot-put.
Her father Joe (74), a retired teacher, told the Herald: "The World Games in Croke Park in 2003 really raised the profile of Special Olympics in Ireland.
"Special Olympics is a great organisation for people on the fringes who formerly were not recognised for what they could do but rather what they couldn't do. Now their potential can get more recognition," he said.
Team Ireland will compete against teams from 58 countries in athletics, aquatics, gymnastics, football and table tennis.
The Irish contingent will be supported by an 18-strong management team and 140 family members.
The team flew out from Dublin Airport yesterday courtesy of its sponsor Aer Lingus.
Special Olympics CEO Matt English said: "The theme of the Games is 'A Great Performance Deserves a Great Audience', and we are calling on Ireland, and indeed Europe, to get behind these extraordinary athletes who overcome so many hurdles to be able to compete at this level.
"Special thanks must also go to Aer Lingus, which played a vital role in getting our athletes to Belgium where each athlete will represent this country to the best of their abilities."
The 2014 Games officially begin on Saturday at the opening ceremony in Brussels.
Special Olympics Ireland aims to help athletes develop both physically and emotionally, to make new friends, realise their dreams, and know they can fit in.
The organisation has more than 9,000 registered athletes participating in 15 sports in 385 clubs throughout Ireland.