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Staff blogs - A week of volunteering at the Special Olympics

Staff blogs - A week of volunteering at the Special Olympics
29 August 2017


Earlier this year, Our Senior Management Team opened applications to allow three people to volunteer at the Special Olympics on paid leave. After successful applications, Fiona Maguire; Joy Smith and Robert Carter were chosen to help organise the Olympic event. Each person was supported for 5 consecutive days/shifts of the Games and encouraged to attend at least one training event in Sheffield.

This one in a blue moon opportunity proved to be a treat for those chosen and so they would like to share their experiences in in the blogs below.  

Fiona Maguire

All I can say is what a wonderful experience I had last week. The competitors were fantastic, so happy and positive. Met some amazing people both competitors and volunteers.

Joy Smith

As you will be aware the Special Olympics GB National Games 2017 was held in Sheffield 7th to 11th August, competitions commencing 8th August.

There were over 2,500 athletes with intellectual (learning) disabilities, 6,000 families, 1000 volunteers and 20 sports making it the largest multi-sport disability event of 2017

Teams were in regions from England Scotland and Wales, Yorkshire and Humber having the largest delegation

Three colleagues from Sheffield CCG applied to volunteer and granted paid leave to do this.

Robert Carter assigned to tennis at Graves Sports Centre

Fiona McGuire assigned to transport, ferrying competitors to and from their accommodation to their sporting venue

I was assigned to badminton at English Institute of Sport Sheffield

The volunteers for badminton were asked to form teams of 3 to score or line judge for each match, some of which had experience in these duties or were avid players themselves. Occasionally when I stumbled over a tricky call the coaches and players never challenged my decision but gently offered their opinion.

Over the many matches leading up to the games, the competitors undergo ‘divisioning’ to ensure they compete against similar capability athletes.

Over the many matches I was involved with there was always ‘competition’ and no game was ever a ‘walk over’ no matter how severe the intellectual disability was. Fellow competitors, from whichever team, supported every game played, offered genuine congratulations to their own team members and their opponents and respect for everybody involved. The coaches were always near the court to offer gentle support at half time. Their dedication, commitment and belief in these individuals to compete was exceptional.

The odd tear was shed but that was either due to celebrating their own achievement or the emotional on lookers (me included). There were undisputable injuries which were dealt with on site then play recommenced. It was a privilege to be part of this experience and an example of pure overall showmanship. We have a lot to learn from these athletes. 

Robert Carter

What a joy the week was, I am just so lucky to have been given the time to attend in a volunteer capacity and to support the Special Olympics, it was perhaps the most fulfilling week of my life; certainly in this century.

So what was my role?  When I arrived for the initial briefing it seemed a bit uncertain although clearly I was expected to do something since I was on the master list of volunteers and I had been allocated a rather fetching yellowish volunteers shirt and a blue sweatshirt.  There was a ‘tennis specific’ volunteer coordinator and a ‘general’ volunteer coordinator.  Perhaps not unexpectedly, since the NHSS firewall  had rejected a number of emails sent to me relating to the games and roles,  neither coordinator had me on their list!  I had been previously assured that I would be a ‘tennis operations volunteer’ so the role of court doorman was agreed and seemed fitting.  A simple role you may think and so did I. 

The door provided access to the 3 courts and it’s opening was restricted to times when the players on the first court took their seats on the alternate game changeover.  The challenge became immediately apparent.  Court officials expected to be allowed through the door at all times.  Players were often elusive so when found had to be hurried to the match holding area in double quick time, often sooner that the natural break in play.  Parents and relatives were often pushy in their request to access the courts to see their loved ones compete.  Players wanting to access the courts to support their friends were often impatient and manipulative, and these same players had a frequent need to leave the court arena for ‘comfort’ breaks which I felt I ignored at my peril!  Finally, visualise the scene;  try allowing a single person access to or exit from the courts when a further 20 are jostling to join them.  I still bear the scars! 

I had some great interaction with player, coaches, parents, relatives, officials and fellow volunteers.  The joy on the faces of the players , often whether they won or lost was so uplifting.  I was treated as a friend by many of the players as they came to share their tale of their game, one young man thrilled because he had managed to win 2 points in the set, his greatest achievement ever.  How fantastic is that. 

Take away the stimulation derived from trying to support those who strived, despite significant challenges, to participate and possibly win in their chosen field and day to day life can be quite mundane in comparison.  We all have a, lot to learn I think & I personally must devote more time to volunteering to help those less fortunate than me.  This experience will provide that trigger. 

Thanks for the opportunity.




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