At the presentation of €500 from the Gala Gifts for Clubs initiative to Athlone Special Olympics Club in The Bounty on Tuesday. Back, l-r: Liam Madden, Rachel Madden, Des Grealis, Maeve Harkins, Tony Cluskey (Gala), Laura Carroll, Ann Lynam, Laura Cassidy, Jean Larkin. Front: David Collins, Luke Lynam, Aideen Harkins, Sarah Sheehan, Mark Flynn and Michael Egan. Photo: Paul Molloy.

Athlone Special Olympics awarded €500 in Gala 'Gifts for Clubs' initiative

Athlone Special Olympics Club has been awarded €500 from Gala Retail as part of the Gala Gifts for Clubs initiative.

Special Olympics Clubs are headed up by volunteers who dedicate their time through coaching and development, and Gala Retail, a platinum sponsor of Special Olympics Ireland, launched the Gala Gifts for Clubs initiative to recognise and reward the work of Special Olympics Clubs across Ireland.

Volunteer Des Grealis used his background in drama to run successful speech and drama sessions as part of the club’s ‘Fun and Games’ programme.

Des commented: “The drama group is fantastic for those who can't participate in competitive sports, it allows them to meet with like-minded friends and feel a part of the community. We often use the drama club for arts and crafts activities especially in the led up to club games, competitions or ahead of the Special Olympics World Games – to make flags, posters, and similar items to show support to our athletes.”

Club secretary and long-time volunteer, Laura Carroll, added: “I have been a part of the club for 18 years and in that time, I have made life-long friends. I can’t explain the feeling I get when I hear the crowd cheering on the athletes competing at an event, it’s sure not easy to hold back the tears!

“As secretary, I will say the club would be nothing without our wonderful volunteers who give up their time week-in week-out for the athletes and for this I will be forever grateful.”

Known for its basketball, athletics, bowling and floorball offering, Athlone Special Olympics Club is hoping to launch a new bocce programme in September and, with the funds from the Gala Gifts for Clubs initiative, the club will be able to purchase the necessary equipment.

The Athlone club has been very successful in basketball and floorball – between strong showings in national finals, and athletes being part of Team Ireland for World Games in Greece, Abu Dhabi and Berlin.

Athlete Aideen Harkins emphasises the positive impact that Athlone Special Olympics Club has had in her life. “I’ve been with the club for 20 years, playing basketball and floorball. I enjoy training twice a week, and it’s really helped me meet people and make friends. There’s great support from all the coaches and volunteers, and it’s helped me achieve so much," said Aideen.

"I won medals in the 2023 World Summer Games in Berlin, and I’m currently doing the Athlete Leadership course. I’m really looking forward to starting bocce with the club later this year,” Aideen added.

Since 2015, Gala Retail has been a proud, platinum partner for Special Olympics Ireland. In collaboration with the organisation, Gala Retail has joined forces to grant rewards to clubs throughout Ireland as part of the Gala Gifts for Clubs programme. This initiative aims to illustrate the remarkable efforts and commitment of Special Olympics clubs nationwide.

Speaking about the Gala Gifts for Clubs initiative, Tony Cluskey, Marketing and Ambient Trading Manager at Gala Retail, said: "Through our partnership with Special Olympics, Gala has consistently been impressed by the dedication and hard work shown by athletes, volunteers, and coaches in every Special Olympics Club across the country.

“The Gala Gifts for Clubs initiative is designed to acknowledge and pay tribute to the efforts of clubs in supporting their athletes and volunteers. Laura Carroll and Des Grealis deserve recognition for their dedication in creating an enjoyable environment for both athletes and volunteers. Gala is proud to present them with a Gala Gift for Clubs as a token of our appreciation for their outstanding contributions and we look forward to seeing them expand further with their new bocce programme.”