"I stand here before you as a leader"

The athlete leaders and youth leader who contributed to the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Leadership Conference 2018
The athlete leaders and youth leader who contributed to the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Leadership Conference 2018

“I stand here before you as a leader”—there was no doubting the truth of that statement as Kiera Byland addressed the delegates of the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Leadership Conference 2018. Kiera—from Special Olympics Great Britain—described her journey from being bullied in school to becoming a dynamic health and fitness promoter who serves not only Special Olympics and but also her wider community.

Athlete Leaders with a Strong Message on Health

Kiera was not the only athlete leader with a remarkable story and invaluable insights to share at the “Inclusion in Motion” Conference in Budva, Montenegro. Lize Weerdenburg from Special Olympics Netherlands emphasised to the 40 Special Olympics programmes present the difference that our health work can make to athletes. She noted, “I would advise all Special Olympics programmes to offer Healthy Athletes, or parts of it, more often”.

Lize and Kiera were supported in their powerful health advocacy by Halina Andrzejak, from Special Olympics Poland, and Ekaterina Sazonova from Special Olympics Russia, who spreads the word of our Fit5 programme in orphanages in Moscow. Claire Adams from Special Olympics Ireland meanwhile brought the Fit5 message to life by introducing the audience to the 1 million step challenge which conference participants undertook—and achieved—over our two days in Budva.

Unified Sports Sends a Strong Message

The impact of Unified Sports was also a key focus of the conference. “When we are together on the court, we send a strong message to our communities,” noted Goran Maric, a youth leader from Special Olympics Serbia, underlining the impact that Unified Sports has not only on players with and without intellectual disabilities but on the entire community.

Ekaterina Sazonova, wearing a Special Olympics Play Unified white t-shirt, takes part in Unified (beach) Volleyball as the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Leadership Conference draws to a close. Erika is giving a double thumbs up and is on the beach with two other athletes
Ekaterina Sazonova takes part in Unified Volleyball as the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Leadership Conference draws to a close.

Athletes Offer Different Strengths as they Grow Older

Micheline Van Hees, from Special Olympics Belgium, meanwhile explored how we can address the issues that athletes face as they age, their capabilities change and they may consider leaving Special Olympics. She noted, “When athletes get older, they don’t have to leave Special Olympics, they can take up different sports and different responsibilities in the organisation”.

Communication is Key

During the communications breakout session, Johanna Pramstaller from Special Olympics Austria offered important insights into how she, as an athlete, uses social media at events, what is successful on her channels and how she would like Special Olympics programmes to engage with her on social media.

New Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger Takes to the Stage

It was a thrill to welcome the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia new Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger, Ian Harper, to the stage. True to form, Ian powerfully conveyed the potential within every athlete to advocate for themselves, and for our movement. He said, “We know what we need, we know how Special Olympics has changed our lives – all we might need is some support and training so we can talk about it.”

There was serious business to discuss at the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Leadership Conference but there was also time for a conga line!
There was serious business to discuss at the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Leadership Conference but there was also time for a conga line!