The Special Olympics and the Unsung Irish Hero
by Edel Corcoran
Kilkenny Garda station was the centre of attention on the night of 30th September last as Gary Gordon, a member of the International Police Association here who is stationed in Kilkenny was honoured in a very special way. Gary was inducted into the “Hall of Fame” of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics, the first Irish person to be bestowed with such an honour. This special award is usually presented to the recipient at the International Conference of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), which this year was held in Colorado, USA.
This year the International (LETR Executive Council) Committee made an exception, as the intended recipient was unable to travel to Colorado to accept the award in person. So, on 30th September last, the International Committee represented by Scott Whyte of Australia, Jeremy Adams of the PSNI, Marion Murphy, Organisational Director of Special Olympics Europe and Asia and Matt English CEO Special Olympics Ireland arrived instead at Kilkenny Garda Station for that special ceremony. There, the presentation of this very special honour was made to Gary in recognition of his selfless work with the LETR and Special Olympics Ireland, including his raising of the awareness of the Special Olympics nationally and international.
There were many distinguished guests present for the ceremony, adding greatly to the occasion, which had all the warmth one would expect in such an organisation and in many ways, it mirrored our own IPA motto of “service through friendship”.
Gary Gordon has been deeply involved in Special Olympics Ireland and LETR for Special Olympics International since he attended his first meeting of Special Olympics as a community Garda in Kilkenny city in 2002. He has excelled in his role with the organisation since then. Gary has worked on and developed the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) and Special Olympics Law Enforcement programme (SOLE). He is responsible for organising and managing the implementation of the Torch Run in conjunction with police forces around the world. In 2005 it was decided to create an ‘education and awareness’ programme, spear-headed by Gary and aimed at student Gardaí and student Police officers in both the Garda College, Templemore and PSNI College at Garnerville Road, Belfast.
In July 2005 the Special Olympics Law Enforcement (S.O.L.E) programme was launched and continues to this day. The programme consists of an hour long briefing delivered by a Special Olympics Athlete, together with representatives of Special Olympics Ireland and the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) in both jurisdictions. Gary espouses all that is noble in Irish life through his role as a community Garda, a Special Olympics Volunteer, a community leader and a person who champions the promotion of social justice and cultural rights, with emphasis on encouraging and empowering those around him to embrace the highest standards in life; the Special Olympics being a perfect example of such qualities.
The aims of the S.O.L.E programme are to:-
- Highlight the unique relationship between Special Olympics and Law Enforcement bodies
- Provide an insight for police officers of the lives of people with Intellectual Disability in their community
- Showcase the work of police officers as guardians of the Flame of Hope and promote the Torch Run
- Express gratitude for the fundraising initiates that benefit Special Olympics
The LETR also supports the Special Olympics on the island of Ireland through organising fundraising events involving Garda/Police personnel and staff, including:-
- Polar Plunge events – along with the general public, many Gardaí/Police officers plunge in freezing seas/waterways to raise awareness and funds each Nov/Dec.
- Cops n’ Donuts – Gardaí/Police and a Special Olympics Athlete spend a day selling donuts.
- Taking part in Canoe Challenges/Marathon/ Cycling Events.
- Organising other fundraising activities in Garda/Police Stations.
- Encouraging Gardaí/Police officers to volunteer in a Special Olympics Club or to present awards at Special Olympics competition events.
There is a top down approach with regard to the promotion and protection of the human rights of disabled persons ratified under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted in 2006. Ireland is a signatory to that the CRPD Convention, which seeks to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. The CRPD affirms established human rights principles under the UN Declaration on Human Rights, including civil and political rights, equal treatment and freedom from discrimination, social and economic rights in areas such as education, health care, employment and transport, to all people with disabilities. There are one hundred and sixty two (162) signatories to the Convention and every State which ratified this UN Convention is committed to delivering equal rights and opportunities in all areas of life to all those with disabilities, ensuring full social and economic inclusion for all persons with disabilities. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand so we all have our part play in ensuring that those principles are lived up to.
Advocacy is key to the success of Special Olympics and of the programmes in which Gary is involved in. We can work to support Gary and the Special Olympics in many ways. We can give real and important support by our participation in the Special Olympics Torch Run which is dependent on a consistent level of active participation by our colleagues here in Ireland and abroad. We can also assist by volunteering with the Special Olympics on an on-going basis. Here in Ireland, we are proud to be able to say that we in IPA Ireland and An Garda Síochána have a long and proud tradition of involvement in the Torch Run and in other areas of support for the Special Olympics.
It is important that our actions reflect our part in effecting positive change within our local community and I can’t think of any better way to do that than assisting the Special Olympics.
If you can lend your assistance in any way with LETR for Special Olympics, please feel free to contact Gary or other Garda Síochána members on the Committee by visiting the Law Enforcement Torch Run website www.letrrepublicofireland.org and using the contact link. There is always room for more help in this very important area of community and social development.
As Ghandi once said “Be the change you wish to see in society”.