Lurgan woman, Sarah Jane Johnston, has taken Los Angeles by storm at the Special Olympics.
Sarah Jane scooped two bronze medals in the first two days of the Special Olympics Summer World Games, after competing in the 100m backstroke and freestyle events.
A member of Ripples Sports Special Olympics Club, Sarah Jane is one of 88 athletes taking part in the Olympic games for Team Ireland.
“I am very happy and proud of my performances, and I am really enjoying the World Games,” Sarah Jane said after her second win.
Twelve members of Team Ireland have travelled to Los Angeles to represent Ulster, and are showcasing their skills for the world to see.
“It’s going really well,” said Christine McVeigh from Lurgan, who is one of 155 volunteers who travelled to LA to support Team Ireland.
“On the first day of the competition, Team Ireland got three medals in swimming.”
Christine has been a volunteer with Special Olympics Ireland for over ten years, and previously worked at the World Games in Athens back in 2011.
“This year, I’m doing guest services - so I get to check on the VIP guests and show them where they need to go,” she shared.
Christine joins around 30,000 volunteers who will each play a crucial role in allowing the Games to happen. They join the 7,000 athletes competing in this Summer’s Games, which runs until August 2nd.
Taking place in L.A. - the second largest city in the United States - the Games officially began on Saturday with an opening ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where both the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games took place.
“The opening ceremony was unreal,” Christine explained. “The Irish athletes got the best reception, bar the American athletes. Colin Farell led out the Irish athletes and Michelle Obama, Justin Bieber, Paula Abdul and Michael Phelps were all there.”
First Lady Michelle Obama addressed crowds at the ceremony, voicing the importance of the Games:
“To all of our athletes, I just want you to know that all those people won’t just be cheering for you, they’re going to be learning from you. You’re filling us with so much hope and you’re uniting us in a way that nothing else can.”
Her husband, President Barack Obama greeted the athletes in a recorded message, commending them for representing ‘the very best of the human spirit’: “Where some see limitation, you see opportunity.”
Michelle was joined by a host of familiar faces, including Dublin-born Hollywood actor, Colin Farrell - who has been involved with Special Olympics since 2003.
Mr Farrell, who lives in L.A., said he was honoured to be involved: “I’m so excited to once more bear witness to the spirit of competition amidst the solidarity that the 2015 World Summer Games will showcase. So many athletes from all over the world coming together and the Irish team front and centre. Meeting all of the athletes and walking out amongst the Irish team is such a great honour. Let’s go, Ireland! Let’s go, world!”
CEO Special Olympics Ireland, Matt English, said he was thrilled to have such well-known and respected stars accompany the Irish athletes in Saturday’s parade: “Special Olympics Ireland has always relied on the support of friends across many different spectrums. Having individuals like Colin Farrell, a well-known actor who has lent his support time and time again to our movement, is hugely important to both the organisation and our athletes. I would like to sincerely thank them for their ongoing and vital support. I know that the Irish public at home is cheering on every medal.”
Regional director of Special Olympics Ulster, Shaun Cassidy, commented, “It’s fantastic to hear news of Team Ireland’s continuing success at LA2015 of the World Games - our congratulations go to all of the athletes and particularly Ulster’s Sarah Jane Johnston who clinched her second bronze medal on day two. The athletes’ achievements fill us with an immense sense of pride and we’re so pleased to see everyone getting behind Team Ireland at home and abroad.”
To follow Team Ireland’s progress at the Games, find Special Olympics Ireland on Facebook, follow @SOIreland on Twitter, or visit www.specialolympics.ie