Ahead of the Special Olympics Sweden Invitational Games 2020, a few lucky athletes from Romania embarked on the journey of a lifetime. They became the stars of Down the Road. Aventura, an adventure reality TV programme hosted by well-known Romanian TV personality Mircea Radu.
Eight Special Olympics Romania athletes with Down syndrome aged 23 to 36 years old and from across the country—Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Baia-Mare and Hunedoara—took part in the show: Anca Miron, Mihai Arsenie, Andrei Cupsa, Bogdan Cleniuc, Andrei Nita, Raluca Avram, Andreea Mustareata-Pivniceru and Ionut Paunescu.
Down the Road brought the athletes on an eight-day long adventurous trip around Romania. They visited historical and cultural sites such as Bran Castle (also known as Dracula Castle), played the role of princesses and princes at Rasnov Fortress and went on a treasure hunt in the woods.
Rising to the Challenge
The athletes enthusiastically undertook challenges throughout the trip—for example exploring the Romanian sky by going paragliding, zip lining and flying in a hot air balloon as well as in a helicopter!
Their everyday-life skills were also put to the test, the group cooked pizza and burgers with a chef in Brașov and were challenged to spend one night alone in their accommodation! Relaxation and leisure were also on the schedule—the athletes spent a lovely afternoon at the local spa, learned about wild animals at the zoo and how to ride horses.
This wonderful adventure concluded with a heart-warming surprise for the athletes: short video-messages from their favourite actors and singers! The programme brought some very emotional moments, as the athletes shared heartfelt discussions about Down syndrome and about friendship. One particularly moving moment was when the athletes and the host waved a flag with the symbol of Down syndrome above the city of Brasov!
Cast and Crew Connections
As well as the on-screen action, a second amazing adventure was going on behind the camera! During the course of filming, the cast found themselves connecting with the cameramen and producers and developed a sincere friendship. By the end of the experience, they all felt like a big family, and tears fell on both sides when it was time to wrap up. “It is the first project when I feel like I received more than I offered”, one of the producers said.
“The most beautiful and touching project on national television in many years.”
“I Made Friends, I Felt Loved”
After a week full of emotions, the cast sat for an interview and talked about the activities as well as their hopes, dreams and fears. “Down the Road is the most spectacular and wonderful adventure of my life”, commented Bogdan on the experience. “A continuous effort to overcome myself; sometimes I gave up, but most of the times, thanks to all the wonderful loving people around me, I was able to overcome my fear and to be BRAVE. I made friends, I felt loved and it meant everything to me. I learnt something from each person and I thank you all for this. I would like to repeat the zip ling…I am sure that next time I will manage!”
The first of the eight episodes of the programme aired on 23 December 2019 on the national TV channel, TVR1. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The public was very impressed by the athletes and the show’s high ratings only increased with every broadcast.
“People who are Born Different have the same Feelings as Us”
Most importantly, the programme has succeeded in raising awareness for the Special Olympics movement and for equality in general. Through the show, the audience realized that people with Down syndrome are just like everybody else: they love, argue and cry the same way, they have needs and hopes, they can be overjoyed, excited or furious.” I watched the show every Monday with my children. They understood that people who were born different have feelings. They try to overcome barriers, they are nice and show empathy,” commented another fan of the show, Nicoleta.
Watching the show, I learnt that as much as we think we know the athletes after all these years, there is always a new side that could be revealed. They never cease to amaze us!