Spirit of competition burns brightly at event

Competitors descended on Nelson for a regional Special Olympics event, including a man who had never been outside of Christchurch before.

About 300 competitors from as far north as Manawatu and as far south as Canterbury took part in the event on Saturday and yesterday.

Special Olympics Nelson co-ordinator Lois Aikenhead said the opening ceremony was "brilliant", with athletes marching around the athletics oval at Saxton Field.

Athletes chosen to spread the word about the Special Olympics, called Global Messengers, took a lit Olympic flame around with them.

Nelson MP Nick Smith officially opened the event, and Nelson singer Sophie Ricketts sang the New Zealand national anthem.

John Towns, who founded Special Olympics Nelson in 1984, also gave a speech.

Ms Aikenhead said the last time Nelson hosted the regional competition was in 2002.

"We decided we'd be brave, and have the eight sports that we run here: Swimming, athletics, bocce, tenpin bowling, indoor bowls, power lifting, golf, and basketball. It was a big undertaking," she said.

There were 78 competitors from Special Olympics Nelson, as well as others from Waimea College, Nayland College, and Motueka.

"They love it because they meet up with people from other games. They make friends from all over the place."

Ms Aikenhead said one 27-year-old man, who competed in the basketball competition, had never been out of Christchurch before.

It was a great experience for him, she said, and the event was also a great opportunity to showcase Special Olympics Nelson's new flag.

Nelson man Nigel Fearn, who has competed in every regional event since 1984, carried the flag around the oval.

"He had a sore eye, and was not allowed to compete. It was the first regional competition he had missed."

Ms Aikenhead said Special Olympians were "probably the best sportspeople I have ever met". "It's amazing. Everybody says that about the sportsmanship of Special Olympians - how special it is," she said.

Ms Aikenhead said at least 36 athletes from Special Olympics Nelson would head to nationals in Dunedin in November, as well as competitors from Waimea College, and possibly Nayland College.

Ms Aikenhead said there would be a major fundraising drive as it would cost $1000 per competitor to get down there, compete, and return to Nelson.

The Nelson Mail