The audience at the Eisstadion Graz were treated to a beautiful display of Unified Ice Dancing when Denis Bragin and Yekaterina Kirdyayeva from Special Olympics Kazakhstan took to the ice. The pair are from the city of Almaty and have been training together in the Special Olympics Unified Sports program for just over a year, concentrating on figure skating for only the past four months.
Denis, aged 32, is also a champion tennis player, placing first in Special Olympics Kazakhstan but he wanted to try something new. "I wanted to know how it felt on the ice. Before I could only see others perform, now I'm dancing and it makes me so happy that I want to keep improving and hopefully compete someday as part of the Special Olympics figure skating team. And I also want to keep dancing with Yekaterina." And judging on their response, so do the crowd.
For Yekaterina, the Unified Sports experience has surprised her. "I wanted to help others but I've discovered that I am actually learning so much from Denis and the other athletes. It has given me the possibility to see the world through a different lens."
Special Olympics has truly enriched Denis's life, "I've learned so many new skills and things about myself. I now enjoy socializing which enables me to help others by sharing my experience."
Special Olympics Unified Sports is a fast-growing initiative that brings people with and without intellectual disabilities together on the same team to compete. More than 1.2 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way.