8 February 2023

Darren, Damien and Craig team up to represent Victoria at the Special Olympics!

Recently, we shared how three housemates were selected to represent Victoria in bocce at the Special Olympics. Well, here's what happened next.

Leading up to the Special Olympics (the Games), Darren, Damien and Craig were featured in a local community paper. They also attended a send-off of the Victorian Special Olympics team at the MCG, receiving congratulations from many people, including The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Minister for the NDIS and Government Services.

Minister Shorten shared with the competitors at the Games, “What you do is for everyone who's not competing on a team, all your other friends who mightn't be in the Special Olympics Victorian team going to the National Games."

"You are also making them visible, and you're getting people who don't know about disability, to reimagine what they don't know.”

Image: Bill Shorten stands in front of members of Team Victoria sitting in the stands at the MCG at the Team Victoria Send Off event.

Craig, Damien and Darren flew from Victoria to Tasmania on a Sunday and attended the Opening Ceremony on a Monday. The three athletes were accompanied by a support person from Life Without Barriers, Carolyn McGill, who was given special permission to attend.

At the Games, Darren, Damien and Craig truly lived up to the Special Olympics’ motto: let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.

The men showed a remarkable ability to adapt to constant changes. They stayed with 37 other athletes and adhered to tight schedules. They also had never played on a carpet Green before the event.

While the competition was fierce, so too was the comradery. Throughout the entire experience, everyone looked out for one another. For example, Darren would help his friends know where they all had to be at different times. At one stage, he took the responsibility of ensuring Craig knew where to head while on the Green, as volunteers were not allowed to go.

“We were committed to attending Tasmania for the week to give it our all. We were all trying our best, but also recognising we were all in the same boat.

"Sometimes we would win, and sometimes we would lose. Resilience is not always winning, but being a part of the entire event,” the three men shared.

Image: Darren and Craig stand next to Damien, who is sitting on a white chair. The teammates are wearing their Team Victoria jackets.

They each gained something special from the experience. Darren was excited about the whole experience of an adventure - going on a trip, playing bocce, and meeting up with his friends in a new town.

“I enjoyed going to Tasmania to be involved in the Olympics, loved getting all the items to wear and use on the trip; I am still enjoying wearing these clothes every day," Darren said.

"What I liked most was the extra activities I experienced, like the talent show we did one night and the last day when we did tenpin bowling with the bocce team.”

Craig loves his weekly activities and sticking to routines - generally, a change is met with “no thanks” - so it was a surprise to all that he wanted to go to Tasmania for a week. Being asked to represent Victoria in National Games gave Craig a spring in his step. He is a man of few words, but he communicated to people he met that he was going to play bocce in Tasmania.

“I liked going away with my friend (Damien), going on the aeroplane like my dad used to, and I liked sharing my room with my friend, and my sisters coming. I am proud of my medals,” said Craig.

Image: Damien, Darren and Craig sit on the beds in their hotel room.

“Craig took being outside of his comfort zone so well. He also played extremely well. He’s a left-hander and has this spin that works really well, and he can pull out some really good moves," Carolyn said.

"Because his sisters flew down for the Games, it made him realise, ‘ooh, this is special’. His sisters would tell him how wonderful he was doing – which he was – and he got more enjoyment out of being at the Games because of that.”

Damien is a strong athlete and was very popular at the Games. Damien doesn't always express himself verbally, but that does not stop him from making friends wherever he goes. Damien already knew a lot of the athletes, and by the end of the event, everyone knew Damien whenever he walked into a room, which he loved.

“I liked competing, making new friends, and catching up with old ones; I loved being with my bocce team and feeling proud." Damien.

"I liked my coach and being part of a team, watching my teammates getting medals as well as me. I liked saying the motto on the bus before the competition and after, and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. I loved the buffet breakfast and being in my own room with Craig at the hotel, and flying on the plane. I liked everything,” said Damien.

Image: Damien in action on the Green.

Damien, Craig and Darren said that while learning how to be the best bocce player they could be, they were taught so much more.

“We learnt about belonging to a team. We are valued. We can do anything we set our minds to. We can contribute. We learnt about empathy for others - knowing we needed to wait and change our routine for the team. When others did not get the gold, we came together to offer condolences while congratulating those who managed to succeed," they said.

"It felt so good to represent Victoria. It was our time to shine.”

Image: Damien, Craig and Darren sit together, wearing their Team Victoria uniform.

Carolyn witnessed the friendship between the men grow and deepen as a result of the Special Olympics, and the experience also built their confidence.

“Darren had the chance to step up and show his leadership qualities. He overcame his anxiety and made new friendships. Damien can be self-conscious about his speech abilities, but being at the Games increased his social skills and confidence - he realised that he’s quite popular!"

"The biggest growth was probably for Craig. Being out of his routine and having to adapt to a completely whole different scenario. When Craig came back and looked at his photos and the medals – that’s when he got a lot out of it. If you speak about it with him now, he puffs his chest out, and the smile is there,” said Carolyn.

Image: Craig shows off his medal.

Darren was awarded a Bronze for Doubles, a Bronze for Singles and a Silver for Teams. Craig was awarded a Silver for Doubles, a Gold for Singles and a 4th for Teams. Damien was awarded a 4th for Doubles, a Silver for Singles and a Gold for Teams.

Image: Darren, Craig and Damien showing off their medals.

Craig’s sisters felt a deep pride when watching the events in Launceston.

“All three came home with an array of medals, but more importantly, it provided an opportunity for personal development when engaging with a wider community. We are very proud of them all.”

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