Thank You Skiathos!!

It’s with a heavy heart that we leave Skiathos and head for the urban hustle and bustle of Athens in time for the opening ceremony of the 2011 Special Olympics World Games.

This Aegean island paradise has been home for the past five days and what a home!  The warmth of the sun has only been matched by the glowing welcome we’ve received everywhere we have been.

Since arriving at lunchtime on Monday to a packed and cheering quayside the squad has been overwhelmed by the friendship shown them by everyone they’ve come across on this idyllic island. From taverna owners to tourists, ex pats to police officers the squad has been met with cheering, happy faces everywhere.
There are too many names and places to list here but suffice to say Skiathos will remain in my memory, and undoubtedly that of everyone in the squad, for a long long time to come.

Now it’s time to get down to the business of winning medals but to all of Skiathos we say a heartfelt thank you!!

Few people embody the real spirit of Special Olympics quite as much as badminton coach Rachel Burke who has scaled the heights in order to help five athletes with learning disabilities realise their dreams of competing for Great Britain in the 2011 World Games in Athens.

This affable, self effacingBoltongirl has dedicated the past year to raising over £12,000 which has enabled Hazel Johnson (badminton) and footballers Haroon Khan, Graham Bancroft, Xavier Brown and Simon Quick to take part in the biggest global sporting event of 2011 which takes place in the Greek capital from June 25th until July 4th.

Rachel, aged 29, has sport coursing through her veins and her day job as a development officer with the renowned Bolton Lads & Girls Club allows her to put her passion to good use.

“I can see every day what sport can do for people of all abilities,” says Rachel “and I’m pleased that I’ve been able to help these five terrific individuals  compete at the World Games.

“I don’t see it as anything special. I’m just doing something I love doing and seeing these athletes compete inAthenswill make it all worthwhile,” added Rachel who has competed at the highest level in cross country and athletics  as well as many outdoor adventurous activities. But what Rachel, and many hundreds of volunteers across the UK, has achieved really is special. Virtually every weekend for the past twelve months has been devoted to the fundraising effort with race nights, sportsmans’ dinners, car washes, charity runs and jumble sales just some of the events that Rachel has organised in the name of Special Olympics.

To top it all off quite literally she recently climbedmountKillimanjaroinTanzania, a country she has visited once before to help build a sports complex and distribute sporting equipment.

“That was tough going,” she admitted “and it really took it out of me but I got there in the end. I had to. I couldn’t let people down.

“Raising money is a tough ask especially in these difficult economic times and we have to continually look for new potential sponsors and avoid asking the same people again and again,” she added.

Her fellow coaches and athletes are in awe of her efforts with Wigan badminton player Hazel Johnson summing it up: “I wouldn’t be going toGreeceif it wasn’t for Rachel. She’s my hero!”

It’s clear that Rachel baulks at the idea of any kind of limelight being cast on her achievements and shys away from recognition but just ask Karen Wallin, head of Special Olympics GB, and it’s clear what her passion for the cause really means: “Rachel’s determination and desire to succeed sums up the Special Olympics movement and highlights the dedication we receive day in day out from our volunteers.

“Without people like Rachel there would be no Special Olympics. We currently receive no central funding from Government and no hand outs. We have to earn every penny to help these fantastic individuals achieve their dreams!” exclaimed Karen.

If Hazel and the four other North West based athletes make the podium at the spiritual home of the Olympic movement you can bet they’ll dedicate their success to Rachel!

For more details visit and you can follow the progress of the GB team on Twitter @SOGreatBritain.

Written on Friday, 24 June 2011 09:11 by Administrator

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