Fresh from the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, we hear from Chris Enock, who accompanied the athletes as part of the Special Olympics Great Britain (SOGB) tennis coaching team.
Chris, who works at Inzpire as a TAC C2 subject matter expert following a 20-year career in the Royal Air Force, was one of two tennis coaches selected to assist the team during the Games. He joined head coach, Paul Singleton.
Both Chris and Paul are coaches at Grantham Tennis Club and part of the Special Olympics Lincolnshire club and the East Midlands region. They volunteered their services to ensure their tennis athletes with intellectual disabilities could represent Team SOGB at the World Summer Games.
Each of the four tennis athletes - Emily Clarke, Adam Brownsword, Matthew Brough and Lily Mills - came away with a medal, which is a remarkable achievement, but as Chris explains this isn’t all the Special Olympics is about. Instead, it’s about embracing inclusivity, where people with intellectual disabilities are seen, celebrated, and rewarded for doing their very best.
Special Olympics GB tennis team. From left to right: Paul Singleton (Head Coach), Chris Enock (Coach), Emily Clarke, Adam Brownsword, Matthew Brough and Lily Mills (Tennis Athletes)
We were delighted to sponsor Chris and the SOGB team in the lead up to the Games and we are thrilled to hear it was a fantastic experience for all.
Team SOGB stayed at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 Hotel on Sunday 11th June. We flew out to Stuttgart the next day and attended three days of cultural events. This included visits to museums, the Mercedes-Benz Arena to meet German Olympic athletes, and a sporting festival which was specially organised to welcome Team SOGB. It was a fantastic few days which afforded our athletes an opportunity to meet and inspire many of the locals, including adults and children with learning disabilities.
Tennis athlete, Emily Clarke, and coach Chris Enock. Katz Wizkas Photography
We said goodbye to our host city on Thursday 15th June and transferred to Berlin for the start of the Games.
The Games Opening Ceremony was held at the Olympiastadion Berlin on Saturday 17th June. This historic stadium was built for the 1936 Olympic Games where the hero of the Games, Jesse Owens, made his name. It was a privilege to be at the venue and to be part of a spectacular show. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the Opening Ceremony and it set the tone for the entire Games, which were played in a spirit of fun and celebration. Family and friends were present, in the crowd of approximately 50,000 people, to cheer on their athletes.
Berlin turned some of its largest venues into sporting facilities. The Tennis Club SC Brandenburg, right in the heart of Berlin next to Messe Exhibition Centre, hosted the tennis tournament. The initial stage of the Special Olympics involved practice sessions for our athletes to acclimatise to the local weather and the clay court conditions. This was followed by a ‘divisioning’ competition, where each athlete was watched by officials to assess their level of ability, to place them in a division to compete against other athletes of a similar standard. Divisioning took place from Sunday 18th June until Tuesday 20th June.
With divisions set, GB tennis athletes competed in two events each: singles and mixed doubles from Wednesday 21st June to Saturday 24th June. As coaches our role was simply to support our athletes with words of encouragement and tactical advice. We sat courtside throughout all competitions, and we were utterly amazed by their performances. It was a pleasure to watch them play their best tennis, playing well above their own expectations and being rewarded for it.
Adam and Lily won gold medals in the mixed doubles; Matthew and Emily won bronze in the same competition. In the singles competitions, Matthew won a gold and Lily brought home a bronze. Adam and Emily narrowly missed out on a medal in singles, both finishing in fourth place. Medal ceremonies took place on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th June. There were plenty of positive emotions including tears of joy from athletes, coaches and families as medals were presented. It was an overwhelmingly jubilant experience for everyone.
Lily Mills and Adam Brownsword play in the mixed doubles. Katz Wizkas Photography
Our tennis athletes were extremely well supported throughout the Games by many of their family and friends, who travelled to Berlin to cheer them on. In between competitions, we found time as a group (often more than thirty of us) to enjoy each other’s company and to try the yummy local cuisine. It also provided an opportunity to reflect on our athletes’ remarkable achievements and to soak up all the positivity circulating the city because of hosting the Games. It was a truly magical experience for everyone involved, and my own family – my wife Lesley and children Robbie and Cassia - joined me for the final four days to experience it.
Other memorable highlights included a party beneath the Brandenburg Gate on Thursday 22nd June for the athletes to mark the week of competition; and a spectacular closing ceremony, at the same iconic site, to celebrate accomplishments, enjoy the community and say farewell until the next time.
Team Special Oympics Great Britain. Katz Wizkas Photography
Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023
The Special Olympics World Games was the world’s biggest inclusive sporting event of 2023, with 7,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from around the world competing across 26 sports. Team Special Olympics GB had a squad of more than 80 athletes from across the country taking part in 17 nominated sports, with more than 40 coaches, support and medical volunteers and staff supporting the group in Berlin 2023.
Special Olympics Lincolnshire
Special Olympics Lincolnshire is part of the country’s largest provider of year-round sports training and competition programmes for people with learning disabilities. To date they have 68 athletes training in athletics, bowls, football, swimming, equestrian, tennis and gymnastics and a Young Athletes Programme for 2–7-year-olds.
To get involved in Special Olympics Lincolnshire tennis sessions, please contact Paul at Grantham Tennis Club: [email protected].
Special Olympics sessions take place once a month but there are also weekly learning disability tennis sessions at Grantham Tennis Club every Saturday, from 14:30 to 15:30, with Paul Singleton and Chris Enock.
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