The Special Olympics World Games Hockey Team wrote their names into the history books after winning gold in the inaugural hockey competition. Head Coach Steve Bradley was there for every moment of the success and has shared his experience of the team attending the 10 Downing Street Special Olympics GB team celebration:
It’s been around four weeks since we returned from the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, players, coaches and parents may still need time to process what happened, how much we played, how well we played, the success of the team on the pitch and the success of the team off the pitch. The squad went away as a group but came back as a team, as friends and came back with confidence in themselves, and as a group.
A lovely email popped up on Wednesday morning, “who is available to come to 10 Downing Street on Friday eve?”, a few emails and whatsapp messages to our ‘Berlin’ group and we have eight out of nine players confirmed to attend and all three staff….as well as parents wishing there were spaces for them!
The fact that all bar one of the players were able to attend at such short notice demonstrates what Berlin meant to them and their parents. The next 36 hours in the build up to our Special Olympics garden party were filled with info, questions, and amazement about what was happening.
Some players travelled up on Friday morning and had a sightseeing day in London, others met with teammates for food – all of them proudly wearing their Red Special Olympics GB kit. I arrived by train and did the short switch across to Whitehall, where I also began to see the red tops of various squad members and coaches, some had made journeys from Scotland and across from Jersey, but all were smiling.
The instructions we were given and were clear – queue outside Downing Street on the left-hand side and have ID ready, the ultimate VIP experience. The hockey team met together, and you could see the warmth between teammates, all proudly wearing their medals.
I’d been told to take photos, not a chance as all phones were left inside a lovely wooden box at reception. The team walked in, some marvelling at the history and photos on the wall that scaled back through generations, others could smell the food and were clearly heading outside. We walked downstairs once we got through the reception area, and the garden opened up almost hidden by the famous black door with No 10 on it.
All staff that we met were so polite and friendly, and really seemed to understand what it meant to the athletes to be there, putting them all at ease.
Inside the garden and the Downing Street staff were offering drinks and food, with so many members of the wider Special Olympics squad sharing hugs and handshakes, volunteers, and trustees of Special Olympics. All of them really wanted to hear players’ stories and speak with them about their experiences. At the start of Berlin, some players were nervous about getting food from the hotel, at No 10 they were sampling all the food they could and telling everyone how good it was. What a change.
The players spoke with members of the Government, policy writers and staff that report back to ministers, every player and person in the Special Olympics GB squad has a unique story to share about their journey.
The whole experience felt like a real celebration for the athletes and that their experiences and achievements were really being recognised. There were chats with coaches about the improvements in players confidence and the people that arrived home being different to those that parents and loved ones waved off in June.
Throughout the few hours that we were at No 10, the squad seemed so happy to be there, in an unknown environment which a few weeks ago may have been very different to manage. Athletes of course rekindled friendships that they had made during Berlin, the warmth and friendliness from across sports, staff and government officials was clear to see. Some players parents attended from across different sports, and all were overjoyed that the people they had accompanied were being recognised at the very highest level.
The whole Special Olympics GB squad including volunteers were invited to attend Number 10, Berlin was what brought us all together as friends and that shared experience, we all had, but it was hockey, gymnastics, athletics, cycling, football and so many more sports that was the unifying factor. It was so clear standing in the garden of No10 exactly what the power of sport is and how it has allowed people with so many different challenges to find something so special to them that has enabled them to achieve so much, whether that is on or off the pitch.