UP, UP AND AWAY: Athletes and coaches at Gladstone Airport yesterday en route to the Special Olympics in Adelaide.
UP, UP AND AWAY: Athletes and coaches at Gladstone Airport yesterday en route to the Special Olympics in Adelaide. Mike Richards GLA150318OLYM

Team flies out for first day of National Special Olympics

TWELVE-year-old Levi Harris flew out from Gladstone for Adelaide yesterday morning.

He was headed for the Special Olympics National Games which start today, and he was very excited.

Levi will compete in swimming in the breastroke and freestyle events, as well as basketball, but according to his mum Kerryn, five years ago he couldn't do a single stroke.

"Five years ago he could only last five minutes in a pool ... He slowly progressed to going to state and national games," she said.

"(It's been) lots of training, twice a week for the last five years."

The National Games, organised by Special Olympics Australia, are held every four years and have been running since 1986.

Athletes will compete in 11 sports at this games, including tennis, golf, gymnastics and sailing.

This is the first time juniors have been invited to the senior games.

Kerryn, who travelled to Adelaide with Levi, is not sure how he'll fare competing against other teams from the bigger states.

"He's still only young and (the event is) Australia-wide, (there's) lots of athletes from all other states," she said.

Levi won a gold medal at the state games in Caloundra last year to qualify for the nationals, racking up three golds and two silvers in swimming and basketball.

Kerryn said it had cost about $3500 to get him to the national games.

"We've been doing lots of fundraising," she said.

"It's a great opportunity for those with an intellectual disability to socialise, to do the best they can in a good environment."

No matter how he goes, she'll be very proud of him.

Eighteen-year-old George Button flew out with Levi and nine other athletes from Gladstone yesterday.

He'll compete in soccer at the Special Olympics.

He's been playing soccer for about four years with the Special Olympics and enjoys the team atmosphere and the chance to hang out with friends.

His mum Kerri-Anne said George had played mainstream soccer from ages 5 to 12 but he had never wanted to go and had not felt part of the team.

"(With the Special Olympics) they all treat each other like a team," she said.

"It's just about the enjoyment and being able to do their best."

Kerri-Anne said she was very proud of her son who had "never done something like this before".

George will play as part of the Queensland team and talent scouts will select the best players from all teams to create a national team for the World Games in Abu Dhabi next year.

He said he's nervous; there's the pressure of the matches and it'll be the furthest away he's been from family.

When he gets back, George will look for work in garden maintenance, he loves fishing and his goal eventually is to find work in a bait and tackle shop.

The Observer wishes all athletes at the Games the best of luck.

Keep up-to-date with the Games by following Special Olympics Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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