Sheffield’s Megan Hattersley is excited because her entire family will finally be able to watch her compete in a swimming race.
The 25-year-old has learning difficulties and is taking part in the Special Olympics’ national summer games, set to take place in Sheffield in two years’ time.
She has been swimming every week for more than 10 years and has taken part in three other similar events.
But this one she is particularly excited for because it is finally in her hometown, easily accessible for her family, who live in Millhouses.
The Special Olympics’ national summer games is a sports competition for people with learning disabilities and will see hundred of athletes flock to the city to take part in competitive events including basketball, swimming, athletics and golf, to name just a few.
“My brother can finally come and watch me,” Megan said at a special launch event in Sheffield this morning.
“It will be really good to have it in the city. It will be really good to have a medal with Sheffield on it too because it is where I live, but even if I don’t win, I can take part and my friends, family and my cousins can come and watch me and because they can come by bus and tram it will be easy for them.”
Her dad, Robert, aged 65, who is now the head coach at Megan’s swimming group at Hillsborough Leisure Centre, is looking forward to it just as much.
He said: “Sheffield will really get behind it once people realised what is involved, it is that kind of place.”
The Special Olympics organisation has more than 150 clubs all over the country with more than 8,000 athletes and events will be held throughout Sheffield.
The opening ceremony in August 2017 will be held at Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United.
According to the Blades’ co-chairmain Jim Phipps, Sheffield is the perfect place to hold the four-day games due to the kindness and warmth of its people, who will give it their support – something he has experienced as a stranger to the city.
He said: “What is also so special about Sheffield is that it a centre for sport, sports management and sports science and we are glad to be a part of it all.
“We play a humble game, we are maybe not that humble on Saturdays, but we are humbled to be able to host the opening event.”
The games will not only benefit the city but will also help to encourage more people to become involved with the Special Olympics club nationwide.
Karen Wallin, the CEO of Special Olympics UK, said: “There are 1.4 million people in this country with a learning disabilities and we try and improve their lives by giving them access to inclusive sporting opportunities throughout the year, regardless of their ability.
“We’re trying to use sport as a tool to enable people to learn new life skills make new friends.
“It also helps with self-confidence and improving health can help with self-esteem and self-worth.”
Football legend and coach Lawrie Mcmenemy knows this all too well.
He is the chairman of the Special Olympics and has seen how becoming involved in sport can change people’s lives – both the athletes and their families.
He said: “What I’ve found after being involved for so long and meeting families is that sport brings people together.
“The majority of groups are run by parents but Gateshead council their started own branch. I went to the opening and then I went back seven months later to present medals and there were 49 families in the room. I asked how many of them knew each other seven months earlier and it was none of them. It’s got them together, got them to get involved in something they totally enjoy.”
The support of other people was a blessing for Michelle Guite, aged 52 and her son Niall, 21, who plays basketball through the Special Olympics. He won a gold medal in a tournament in Los Angles two years ago.
For Niall it was meeting new people while having fun that brought him out of his shell and it meant she met parents who were in a similar situation to her.
She said: “Niall was a really poorly little boy and taking part has helped him develop his strength and fitness and it has really helped his confidence.
“He is really easily isolated because he can’t travel independently. It gives him somewhere to meet his friends away from his parents and I have met like-minded people and have a support network.
“When you are floundering around in the dark, I now don’t feel so isolated either.”
The Special Olympics will no doubt have a lasting impact on the people being cheered on during the competition, but also for the people who will be doing the cheering.
Find out more about the Special Olympics at www.specialolympicsgb.org.uk