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New Zealand’s largest sporting event for athletes with intellectual disabilities, the eighth Special Olympics National Summer Games, saw around 1200 athletes, selected from 44 clubs around New Zealand, competing across 10 Olympic-style sports: aquatics, athletics, basketball, bocce, equestrian, football, golf, indoor bowls, powerlifting, and 10-pin bowling.

Special Olympics New Zealand also ran a Healthy Athletes® Programme during the Games, with athletes offered the opportunity to take part in screenings focused on hearing, eye sight, dental care, and podiatry. Around 70 voluntary clinicians were on deck to undertake these free health screenings. The data gathered will be used to provide valuable evidence-based research which will be shared with key influencers at government level and in the wider disability sector.

Special Olympics New Zealand is a year-round programme of sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. More than 6000 athletes throughout the country train and compete in 13 different Olympic-type summer and winter sports.

Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics provides athletes continuing opportunities to develop fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy as they participate in the sharing of gifts and friendship with other athletes, their families and the community.

‘Opening Eyes’ truly rewarding

Lions clubs around the world support the Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International ‘Opening Eyes’ Programme. This $10 million LCIF initiative screens the vision of Special Olympics athletes – and has provided prescription eyewear to more than 200,000 athletes. Lions play a key role in the success of this programme through hands-on event support that includes: helping register athletes; providing colour vision and visual acuity tests, and distributing glasses and sports goggles to athletes.

To date, more than 8000 Lions worldwide have volunteered their time and talents to the Special Olympics, demonstrating the motto, "We Serve."

In Dunedin, PDG Les Box took on the massive task of organising a team of volunteers to assist in the Opening Eyes programme. Forty six volunteers, including 34 Lions, were rostered from 8am to 6pm Monday to Saturday during the Games.

“We really provided one-on-one support. Initially, the volunteers were given a training brief so they knew what needed to be done. Right from the start a Lion would escort the athlete through the process of filling in forms, asking about their vision history, checking that their glasses (if any) were correct for them, assisting the clinical team with eye testing,” PDG Les told Lion magazine.

“Feedback I have had from some volunteers was that this was one of the most humbling experiences in their Lions career. For me, the most touching part was on the Saturday night, handing out new glasses to the athletes. The special Olympians were so appreciative of our help. Those who didn’t need glasses were offered a pair of very funky sunglasses, and about 170 pairs of these were given out. Some were non-verbal but their faces said it all.

“This programme is a fantastic opportunity for Lions. The next summer games will be held in Wellington in November 2017. I urge Lions in that area to plan to be involved. It is after all, quite rare for us in New Zealand to be able to take direct part in a Lions International project.”

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