It was an action-packed week as the 2023 Special Olympics (SO) Europe Eurasia sports season began with hundreds of athletes with intellectual disabilities competing at two major winter events hosted by SO Poland and SO Estonia, with the support of long-standing partner Lions Clubs International Foundation.
Despite strict COVID-19 restrictions heavily impacting regular training and competition schedules over the past years, both organizers and athletes rose to the challenge and delivered first-class events, with two years to go until the next Special Olympics Winter World Games.
A total of 135 athletes from hosts Estonia, Austria, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, The Netherlands, Slovenia and Slovakia attended the SO European Cross Country Skiing competition in Otepaa from 28 February – 3 March.
“For us it is very important to stage this event. It gives people with all abilities the opportunity to compete in an international event, connect with others from different countries, and have fun!"
The country’s President Alar Karis was also in attendance, welcomed all international delegations, interacted with the Special Olympics athletes and expressed his admiration for them.
Lions Clubs Estonia representatives Raivo Kokser and current district governor Tõnu Muru also actively participated in the event. Kokser said: “Lions Clubs and Special Olympics do really good things while working together to make the world a better place. You do not have to do something big every day, but you can do something good every day."
At the same time, 100 athletes from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Monaco, Serbia, Slovakia, Serbia, Switzerland and hosts Poland attended the SO European Alpine Skiing competition in Zakopane between 27 February and 3 March.
SO Poland General Director Joanna Styczeń-Lasocka said: “We could showcase what people with intellectual disabilities can do thanks to the support of the Ministry of Sport and Tourism and the State Fund for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities
“Thank you also to our sponsors Tauron Polska Energia and Huawei Polska, and our partners Oshee, ENEA Foundation, Levann, Procter&Gamble, Lions Club International Foundation. ‘Let’s Play Together’ is the slogan of our campaign, and we managed to achieve just that thanks to the support of them all.
“’Let's play together’ because only together do we have the ability to change the world so that people with intellectual disabilities have a place in it.”
Lions Clubs Leo volunteers had a key role in making this event happen, such is the case of 18-year-olds Julia and Kasia who were excited about participating in their first Special Olympics event. Their mission, they said, was to make athletes feel “comfortable and at ease.”
Their experience at the Alpine Skiing competition was so enjoyable that Julia and Kasia agreed they would not hesitate to “respond to any other invitation from Special Olympics.”
Following the two successful winter sports events, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia President David Evangelista expressed: “I want to extend our immense gratitude to the entire Special Olympics Estonia and Special Olympics Poland teams for their tremendous efforts to deliver great competitions.
“The events were huge successes—with high energy, top-notch venues, unforgettable athlete experiences, high quality competition and the best of Program leadership.
“In addition, I want to offer a special thanks to Lions Clubs International Foundation for their invaluable and continuous support.”