SPECIAL OLYMPICS EASTBOURNE was set up in 2002 and is part of Special Olympics Great Britain. The group formed because Geoff Martindale, a qualified trainer, went on an athletics course to learn how to work with people with a learning disability. At the end of the week course, students from Hazel Court F.E. Department were given the opportunity to work with Geoff and colleagues in track and field events. Geoff was so impressed with their enthusiasm and ability that he saw a need to set up an athletic group for people with learning disabilities. The rest, as they say, is history! After advice from members of Special Olympics South East Region the group held their first session in September 2002 at Eastbourne Sports Park.
The group started with 8 athletes and now has a membership of over 40, with approx. 30 young people coming along regularly to training on a Thursday. Some of the athletes also enjoy taking part in Regional and National competitions.
During the past 14 years members of Eastbourne Special Olympics have taken part in numerous Regional Competitions. Members, who wished to, have also been part of the team from the South East Region in National Competitions. There have been 3 national competitions, the first in Glasgow in 2005, the second in Leicester in 2009 and most recently in Bath in 2013.
At competitions athletes compete against others of a similar ability which is the main difference between Special Olympics and main stream athletics. It gives everyone an opportunity to put into practice that which they have learned in training, compete at a fair level, be awarded with a medal or certificate for their achievement, learn to be part of a team and make friendships with members from other Special Olympic groups.
Each year Eastbourne hosts a Regional Athletics meeting at Eastbourne Sports Park. This attracts some 180 athletes and has become a very popular venue. Members enjoy meeting and greeting their friends from around the South and London.
In August 2017 the Special Olympics National Games are being held in Sheffield when athletes and carers from Eastbourne will join with the Special Olympics south-east region to compete.
Thanks to strong parent support, fundraising has been ongoing from the start. In the early days, when asked if the group would like to take part in the National Games in Glasgow, we of course said a resounding “YES”! The bombshell came when we were told the cost, which including transport and kit, amounted to some £500 per athlete! At this point, members of the Committee felt it would be unfair that only athletes who could afford it would be able to go. So – the great fundraise began! Thanks to a lot of local support, for which we are very grateful, we received donations to cover the cost of all athletes and carers. Knowing that this competition came up every 4 years fundraising continued and funds were built up to cover the cost of future National competitions.
Members of Special Olympics Eastbourne also enjoy sharing social events, such as parties, bbq’s, going to the Pantomime and collecting funds for the group. It has proved to be a friendship group as well as an athletics group, where the young people support each other. Some of the more able athletes now help at training sessions.
We are grateful to the students from South Downs College and Brighton University, who as part of their course experience, come along and assist at training sessions – they soon become a very loyal and integrated part of the training.
Finally, special thanks to all our trainers who regularly support the group and to all those who have worked so hard to build up a great club and fundraise tirelessly. As mentioned above, local support has been invaluable and we are also grateful to the helpful staff at Eastbourne Sports Park. Without all of these people the group could not survive!