Special Olympics – Asia Pacific – 2013 – Newcastle Australia

A few weeks ago i announced that i had been lucky enough to be accepted as an Official Photographer for the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games 2013 as part of a group of Photographers – Newcastle Sundance – (sometimes known on here as my crazies!).

People with an intellectual disability are one of the largest disability groups in the world. Yet, they are also one of the most disadvantaged. Special Olympics provide one of the few places where those with an intellectual disability can meet new friends, develop confidence and gain a sense of community.  But most importantly it is a place where they can have fun by engaging in competitive sport.

Yes the regular group of photographers that i shoot with had put forward a proposal for us to take on the responsibility of capturing the games from start to finish – as volunteers – so no payment for our time or photos and we would also be allowing Special Olympics to utilise them for news wire services, social media but most importantly for the athletes to be able to download their photos for free. We were lucky enough to have our proposal accepted. And that’s when the fun began – Working with Children Checks, Volunteer Applications, schedules, leave requests and figuring out who could do what, when, where and for how long !!!!! In the end we have ended with approximately 50 photographers supplying their time, energy and skills for this wonderful cause.

Today was the first day that i had been able to participate and i started off what was in the end going to be a very long day, at the Healthy Athlete Program at the local PCYC club. This is such an amazing program they are running for the athletes.

People with intellectual disabilities are at a greater risk of developing certain health problems, such as obesity, diabetes and heart conditions, than the general population. The Healthy Athlete Program actively encourages better healthcare and lifestyle choices for Special Olympics athletes. The program sees volunteer health professionals administer free health screenings and services at major competitions. These services are offered across a variety of health disciplines, including podiatry, optometry, audiology and dentistry. he screenings educate athletes on healthy lifestyle choices, whilst identifying any health issues that may require any follow-up. There are seven areas of focus that Special Olympics have developed internationally. These are: Fit Feet, FUNfitness, Healthy Hearing, Health Promotion, MedFest, Opening Eyes and Special Smiles. The Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games will incorporate five of these key areas into the Healthy Athlete Program at the Games. These are: Fit Feet, Healthy Hearing, Health Promotion, Opening Eyes and Special Smiles. (Credit: SOAPG Website)

They bring the athletes in provide them with a little bag that contains some information on the checks they will undertake and a little “passport”. They then move them through colour coded areas to have each of the different seven checks undertaken. At each ‘checkpoint’ their ‘passport’ is stamped (marked with relevant information for the specialists to clear them or not) and then if necessary they are seen by the specialists. With the eye checks for example they have pre-prepared glasses that can be provided or where specialist scripts are required they undertaken the testing and glasses will be issued to them in approximately January next year. For those that didn’t require glasses (and so they had something to take away) they got to choose a pair of sunglasses – this was possibly the best checkpoint to be at, the smiles, frowns and laughter when testing out the glasses really was too funny at times. its a wonderful initiate and I’m so lucky to have been able to be a part of it.

A few shots showing the different colour coded ‘checkpoints’

After the Healthy Athlete Program it was onto the Host City Welcome. Unfortunately due to recent rain the original venue a lovely reserve area with lots of trees, animals and birdlife had to be changed, so we ended up in the local basketball stadium – all 2000+ of us !!! Yep the rain stopped, the sun came out and phew was it hottttt in there. The athletes had a great time being welcomed through tunnels of volunteers (red, multi coloured shirts) and athlete ambassadors (orange shirts) and lots of cheers and whooping from everybody – the smiles and pride of the athletes walking in with their country colours on was just papable.

After the official welcome to country, official speeches and an amazing performance on didgeridoo it was time for the swarm of green and gold to belt out the National Anthem.

With the formalities done it was then time to boogie – im not too sure who had more fun the athletes or the photographers who were doing more dancing than shooting !

Phew, hot exhausted sore feet and the day wasn’t over just yet. Onto the Opening Ceremony dress rehearsal ….. unfortunately all this is on embargo so you will either need to a) buy a ticket if you are local b) watch it on GEM @ 8.30pm Sunday night if you are in Oz or c) keep an eye on the website or YouTube for highlights if you are international unfortunately.
Now its time for bed!

I will be posting my photos first over on Flickr

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