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The World Game (not the World Cup)

On a crisp, clear morning in Launceston, 31 Bedford clients touched down for the National Championships of the Special Olympics.

They swapped their day jobs – gardeners, cooks, packagers and furniture makers - for the arena and the chance to win medals, earn PB’s and maybe even a place on the national team for the 2023 World Games in Berlin.

Our competitors trained hard to get to this point. They gave up weekends and their social lives to represent our state in the wide-ranging disciplines of swimming, soccer, track and field, basketball and tenpin bowling.

When I joined the action in picturesque north Tassie, I was overwhelmed by the level of ability and the tough competition. Clients greeted me with fist pumps, hugs and proudly displayed their medals and spoke of their adventures and achievements.

However, there was one defining moment that left an indelible mark in my mind: our awesome soccer team. They were clearly not the favourites. The Victorians trained fortnightly – even Teams WA and Queensland had many previous championships under their belt.

Our SA competitors didn’t even have the chance to train together. Bedford participant Toby lived in Adelaide while Courtney and Shaun hailed from our timber mill in Mount Gambier. But what they lacked in match readiness they made up for with sheer determination and camaraderie.

In the round robin games, SA triumphed again and again. Beating their favoured interstate opponents and stunning all to reach the gold medal match against the highly-fancied Victorians.

I watched nervously from the sidelines. The Vics had a loud and intimidating cheer squad and scored first… and then again. Surely it was all over. But just before half time, something magical happened. Our SA squad passed the ball beautifully and out-manoeuvred their opponents to score just on the siren.

In the second half, it was a game of class. SA again, finding the back of the net. Suddenly it was two all. The Vic supporters’ cries were almost deafening.

In response, they mounted a blistering offensive and with just four minutes before full time, scored. 3-2. Despite a last-ditch effort by SA, they were unable to equalise. Team Victoria cheered, and our humble South Aussies wasted no time shaking hands and conceding defeat. Of course, they were disappointed, but I and everyone else in the stadium was so proud with their surprise silver.

Overall, 14 Bedford participants won gold medals and many others took home minor and multiple medals. One even earned the chance to represent Australia in the World Games, but it’s not an easy ride.

While Special Olympics SA works extremely hard with a 98% volunteer rate for logistics and support, families often have to set up GoFundMe pages and pay their own way.

Bedford wants that to change and is currently looking at new fundraising opportunities. After all, doesn’t everyone deserve the chance to pursue their dreams?

- by Vassil Malandris