Hard at work as champion for Olympians
Alison Saunders and her band of coaches and committee are striving to create opportunities for Special Olympians in Southland.
Ms Saunders, of Invercargill, is in her fourth year as co-ordinator for Special Olympics Southland and has been coaching for 15 years. Coaches and committee members in the voluntary organisation total 20 people.
The time Ms Saunders devoted to Special Olympics gained her recognition in November when she was named Sport Southland's Volunteer of the Month.
She usually spends five to seven hours a week on Special Olympics work, including organising training and competitions for nine sports - aquatics, athletics, basketball, bocce (similar to petanque), ten-pin bowling, football, indoor bowls, powerlifting and snow sports.
Golf would be added to the list if a coach could be found.
The 120 Special Olympians in Southland range in ages from 10 to 63.
"To give them the opportunities they deserve and for them to compete at nationals and throughout the world, is very satisfying," Ms Saunders said.
Southern Olympians take part at ribbon days (competitions) from Oamaru south. The national and world Special Olympics are held every four years.
The 41 Southlanders brought home 47 medals from the nationals in Dunedin in November.
Southland's lone entry at the 2011 world games in Greece, powerlifter Dominic Crowe, of Invercargill, returned with two bronze medals.
Two or three Southlanders will compete at next year's world games in Los Angeles. New Zealand selectors have 11 Southland athletes to choose from.
Ms Saunders also cheers loudly on the sidelines. "As they come over the line, you know the effort they've put in. You feel proud that you've enabled them to get there."
Special Olympics Southland received support from many organisations and groups, including the Invercargill Licensing Trust, Community Trust of Southland, Rotary clubs, Lions clubs and Invercargill Working Mens Club.
"The public's been very generous when our buckets are out," Ms Saunders said.