Young athletes bring home the medals
TALENTED Gympie athletes have returned from the recent Queensland Special Olympic State Games earlier this month.
A field of 96 athletes participated, from as far afield as North Queensland and Papua New Guinea.
Among the cohort are several athletes laden with medals, with a number of athletes bringing home handfuls of medals each.
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Gympie Special Olympics coach Natalie Upsall has been training with our region's young athletes for the last three years now.
"With Georgia Nugent, she actually only started towards the end of last year. She only began Special Olympics end of last year, so she's showing some natural talent.
"She came away with four medals: first on bars, second on vault, second on floor, and sixth on beam.”
Upsall said the Gympie region produces some talented athletes.
"It was fantastic, we have got some really great young and upcoming athletes in our region.
"With Special Olympics we start at age 8 and we do have a young athlete group which are aged two to seven. They don't compete at games but we begin to train them up.
"Our girls at gymnastics did amazing. We had three girls who went down to compete and we came second overall at level two.
"Next state games, we are hoping to get a few more juniors to come through.”
Upsall said the organisation has endured a decline in athlete numbers because of a drop in funding.
"We've had a massive drop in funding over the past few years,” she said.
"We are trying to build our numbers back up after a drop-off.
"At the gymnastics club I have five, and four of them come across and do the football.
"We used to have 50-odd athletes in our region. We are down to 18 athletes now.
"We want as many people as we can to come along and have a try.”
Upsall said sport benefits people with special needs as it lets them use energy, focus and engage socially.
"We can see that these young athletes can play football. As much as they might squabble or complain when they train, they showed on the weekend that they could play.
"It makes a world of difference on them, not only at home, but at school too. They are able to regulate a bit more because they are able to get that engagement.
"There are so many athletes who really benefit from our program. If you can get them in, keep them busy, it helps them grow.
"It is often a case of convincing the parents to bring these children back,” Upsall said.
"They (parents) sometimes think their young athletes might not be participating much, but they are. They are involved whether they have the ball or not.
"The sportsmanship is there. It is wonderful to watch.
"It was just watching all the athletes high fiving, we had teams from North Queensland, Papua New Guinea and they all got along.
"You don't see that in the mainstream games. I mean, you do, but not to this extent.
"One of the athletes was on the other team, and she came running from the other side to tie up the shoelace of this boy on the opposite team. It's about the sportsmanship.”