Special Olympians

Living with Down’s Syndrome can have its challenges, but it hasn't held back two talented sportspeople from reaching an elite level of competition.

Former Bellhaven Special School students Catharine Keir and Joe Maloney will head to Melbourne in October to take part in the 2014 Special Olympics National Games.

The National Special Olympics, not to be confused with the Paralympics, is made up of competitors with intellectual disabilities from all over Australia.

The duo are members of the Special Olympics ACT Games team, made up of 45 athletes who will compete in eight categories at the nationals ranging from aquatics to tenpin bowling.

But the team selection didn’t come without a lot of hard work. Catharine and Joe were required to meet particular criteria judged by officials in order to be selected.

And that’s just what they’ve done.

Upon hearing the exciting news of her selection earlier this year Catharine has knuckled down on training and received extra help from her coach to prepare for October.

With 10 years’ experience up her sleeve, the 48-year-old is definitely one for her opponents to watch out for.

Catharine has sailed all over the country, competed in races and regattas (international sailing competitions), and has plenty to show for her efforts.

“Gold, silver and bronze medals, and lots of absolute fun,” Catharine’s sister Maryann Marsh said.

“She’s a high achiever in everything she does, but being selected for the Olympics takes the cake.”

With plenty of support behind her from family and friends, Catharine is heading into the event full of confidence.

“She’s hoping to [bring home a win],” Maryann said.

“She receives lots of encouragement.

“Whatever they (the competitors) do, whatever they get at the nationals is excpetional.

“We encourage her to do what she feels she can, so every achievement she is proud of.”

Just like Catharine, 39-year-old Joe has been preparing for his time in the spotlight.

Joe - who is big on fitness - has been practising on the golf course every week, as well as attending personal training and golf groups, and competing at the Royal Canberra Golf Club every Saturday.

Joe and Catharine also attended a camp at the Australian Institute of Sport where they spent time getting to know their fellow team mates.

According to Joe’s sister Moira Maloney, his main goal is to have fun.

“He loves the idea of going on a plane and spending time with his friends,” she said.

“And he’s looking forward to the opening ceremony.”

The athletes have been fundraising for themselves in order to cover costs of the journey, and are open to donations from the public.

If you would like to assist Catharine and Joe on their experience of a lifetime, head online to the Special Olympics Australia website and follow the prompts.

From here competitors will be selected to form an Australian squad who will head to Los Angeles in 2015 for the Special Olympic Games.